Croydon Homes of the Past

Published I L Eades 1968

Bensham (or Whitehorse) Manor

The estate of Bensham or Whitehorse was probably originally part and parcel of the ancient manor of Bensham, which also embraced the manor of Norbury. The first information which we have relating to it, is in the Patent Rolls of 1373 where it is stated that Walter de Cheriton shortly before 1351 acquired a messuage and carucate of land in Benchesham in the parish of Croydon with money borrowed by him pledging the King’s jewels without licence. A carucate was the amount of land that a team of oxen could plough in the course of a year, and varied according to the system of tillage from 80 to 100 acres. Cheriton’s Bensham estate was seized by the Crown for his debts with his other lands and granted to John de Wesenham, who conveyed it to Walter Whitehorse the King‘s squire or shield bearer. It is the latter who gave his name to the estate, which was subsequently known as the manor of Bensham or Whitehorse, although there is no record that it ever held courts or possessed any of the other privileges of the feudal manor.

The manor later passed into the possession of John Perveys, son of John Perveys, Lord Mayor of London in 1433. John Perveys, the son, died in 1436, and by his will, dated the same year, left the manor of Benchesham or Bensham to his wife Elizabeth for her life, and directed that after her death, it should be sold to pay his debts and the residue disposed for the health of his soul. Less than 30 years later, the manor was owned by John Selling and Margaret his wife, who in 1467 conveyed it to Thomas Goldwell, by John Morton, Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1495, the Archbishop arranged a marriage between Thomas Morton, son of his brother, William, and Margaret Woodford, an heiress to lands in Leicestershire, and settled the manor of Bensham on his marriage for the benefit of Thomas and Margaret for their lives with the remainder to the heirs male of the marriage begotten.

Margaret Woodford was Thomas Morton’s second wife. By his first wife, who was the daughter of Jon Twyniho of Cirencester, he had a son, Sir Robert Morton, who was in the service of Henry VIII. Sir Robert Morton married Jane, eldest daughter of Nicholas Warham, Brother of Archbishop Warham, and it is noteworthy that it is to this lady that the manor of Bensham or Whitehorse is assigned in Morton’s rental of 1493. There is no doubt but that Sir Robert appropriated this manor to himself for he devised it in his will dated May 31st, 1514. He there stated that he had been ‘appointed by our Lord Sovereigns, the King, to wait upon his riall persons into the parties beyond the See in the Church of Croydon, a chalice the price of £5 and a yard of cloth of gold. If he died beyond the seas he willed that his manor of Whitehorse should be sold and the proceeds employed in discharging a bond in which he and his father were bound to the King in the sum of £400. Otherwise this manor was to go to his wife during the nonage of his heir towards the payment of his debts and bequests, and his father was to have his dwelling with the testators wife in the mansion house of the said manor for life. Sir Robert Morton Willed that his body should be buried ‘where it shall please God’. He died the same year and lies buried in the Choir of Croydon Church, as does also Lady Jane, his wife, but the inscriptions over them have long since disappeared.

His father, Thomas Morton, died two years later in 1516, and at the inquisition which followed, the deed by which the manor of Bensham was entailed on his children of the second marriage was recited and it was stated that he had confirmed it by his will. That the manor of Whitehorse or Bensham was held of William, Archbishop of Canterbury, by fealty and the yearly rent of 41/2d, and that it was worth yearly beyond reprises £14. That John Morton, the younger heir to the manor was then aged 16 years, and that William, son of Sir Robert Morton, was 12 years old, and that Lady Jane Morton, late the wife of Sir Robert, had occupied the manor and received the profits from the death of Thomas Morton and before, and that she and her present husband were still in possession. Following on this inquisition John Morton brought an action in Chancery, complaining that his half-brother Sir Robert, had endeavoured to disinherit him of the manor of Bensham, and he was, no doubt, successful in regaining possession as subsequent holders of the manor claimed their descent from Thomas Morton and Margaret Woodford. The manor remained in the possession of the Morton family until 1678 when the last heir, Thomas Morton, died leaving the manor in equal shares to his five daughters.

In 1712, John Borrett of Shoreham, Kent, a Prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas, required two of the one-fifth shares, and in 1724, he was in possession of four of them. He died in or before February, 1740, and his four shares subsequently passed to his son, Trevor Borrett, who acquired the remaining fifth share in 1787 and afterwards sold the whole estate to John Cator of Beckenham, who was in possession of it in 1800 at the time of the Croydon Inclosure award, his total possessions in the parish then amounting to 428 acres. John Cator died in 1806 and his nephew of the same sold the estate to John Davidson Smith. After the death of the last-named, the property was cut up for building purposes.

The last manor house of Whitehorse stood slightly south east of the junction of Whitehorse Road with Whitehorse Lane. It had the date 1604 cut on its front. This house was pulled down towards the end of the last century. Closely associated with Whitehorse, though not actually accounted as part of it, was a small farm of some ten to fifteen acres, which stood on the southern side of the present Spa Road, and abutted on Norwood Common. It was known as Bewley Farm, or Tile Kiln. It is noted in Morton’s rental of 1493 as belonging to Lady Jane Morton, who was then in possession of Whitehorse. A tile making industry was carried on on the estate from which, no doubt, it derived its alternative title of Tile Kiln. Under the Croydon Inclosure award of 1800, it was increased by the addition of a wooded tract known as Bewley Coppice, till then a part of Norwood Common, and in 1831, Mr John Davidson Smith, taking advantage of the existence of a saline spring on the estate, laid it out as a pleasure garden, employing Decimus Burton, a noted architect for the purpose. This garden was known as Beulah Spa, and for a time was immensely popular as a fashionable resort. Sulphate of magnesia was the principal mineral in the water, which was drawn into the pump room in an elaborate glass receptacle with a silver handle. In the grounds were comprised two sheets of water, archery butts and a maze besides various ornamental buildings. The Spa came to a regrettable end in 1858 when it was sold. Probably the counter-attraction of the Crystal Palace which had just be re-erected within ten minute’s walk of the Spa after serving for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park, provide too much for it.

Confronting Bewly on the other side of Spa Road, was the ancient estate known as Biggin Farm, which contained rather over 100 acres. It is scheduled in Archbishop Morton’s rental of 1493 as 120 acres. In 1556, Roger Paddy of Hadley, Middx. and Margery, his wife, sold to Sir Robert Broke, Knight, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, all that ‘mease farme or tenement of appurtenances, callyed or knowen by the name of Byggyngs’ in the lordship of Croydon, Surrey, hen or then lately in the tenue of Henry Frisby. At the time of the Croydon Enclosure award of 1800, Biggin Farm was the property of Mary Wilkes.

(Extract from notes taken by Clarence C. Paget)

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