Early Days

The earliest reference to The Grove is recorded in the book 'The Victoria History of the Counties of England - Hertfordshire' edited by William Page, which refers to The Manor of The Grove, when a John de-Brittewell and his wife Sarah conveyed land, and one third share of a mill, in 1294, to an Albreda de Brittewell and each of her two sisters, Alice and Ellen. Page next refers to an event in 1324/5, when a Thomas de Harpesfield, and his wife Joan, were released from paying the rent due to the Abbot of St Albans. In references to these early events, The Grove appears as La Grava in the will of Cassio.

At some stage, prior to 1400, a John Heydon became associated with the Grove. Heydon was obviously a man of some means, for he added the south chapel to Watford Church before his death, the date of which is uncertain. It has been recorded as having taken place in both 1400 and 1408! Much of the above information concerning the church appeared in print in 1881, when John Edwin Cussan's book, 'History of Hertfordshire', was published. According to the booklet, 'The Heydons in England and America- A Fragment of Family History', written by the Rev. William Heydon, "the Heydons possessed of that portion of the old manor of Cassiobury, which is known as the Grove". The author recalls that the Heydon family held the Grove directly of the King at an annual rent of 37/6d (£1.87). It appears, according to Heydon's booklet, that the King bestowed the Grove on John Heydon at a nominal rent in recognition of the services of his father (Sir Richard Heydon) during the wars. What The Grove consisted of at this time is uncertain. Cussans in his 'History of Hertfordshire' states, "That there was a house here in 1400 is certain, but that the present house is not the one, is equally certain". Old foundations located during recent building work, have been dated as being around five hundred years old.

According to the historians, some confusion appears to have set in during their research for their various works. Page, in his 1908 publication states, "John Rayner and his wife conveyed the manor in 1481/2, to John Fortescue, John Sturgeon, John Foster and Henry Heydon, to the use of John Fortescue. Owing to the proceedings in Chancery, the estate passed to John Melksham or Melsham". Page then goes on to record that after Melkshams death in 1487, his son and heir, John, "who in 1503 with Elizabeth his wife, granted it to Reginald Pegge subject to a rent of £10". From Reginald the Manor passed to his sons William and John Heydon, who were probably descendants of John Heydon, who held the Manor at the end of the fourteenth century.

Ron Brown inspects the stalactites which date the cellars circa 1400
Ron Brown inspects the stalactites
which date the cellars circa 1400
(Watford Observer)

Cussans, in 'History of Hertfordshire', continues the story on from John Heydon's death in 1400 as follows;

"The estate descended in a direct line to Francis Heydon, High Sheriff of this county in 1584. He, on the 30th September 1602, conveyed it to Sir Clement Scudamore".

The Rev William Heydon, in his booklet, lists the various Heydons as being of The Grove, Watford.

As the work by Cussans was published much earlier than the book by Page, it would appear that more information came to light, in the twenty seven or so years between the books. Both authors do, however, agree with the sale to Scudamore, and on the date of the sale (30th September 1602). Sir Clement Scudamore sold the estate in 1631, along with two water mills under one roof, to Sir William Ashton. In due course the estate passed to Ashtons second son Robert, and in turn to his son William. According to Page, "on the death of Robert's son William, the estate passed without issue in 1703, to Sir William Buck, grandson of William, son of Sir William, purchaser of the estate". Cussans, however, gives a more detailed description; "The estate, remained in the Ashton family until 1703, when all the male members of that family having died intestate or without male issue, it came by right of inheritance to Sir William Buck of Hanby, County Lincoln, whose father John had married Mary Ashton, granddaughter of Sir William Ashton".

In 1728 Sir William Burk's son, Sir Charles, conveyed the estate to the trustees of Faulk Greville, a minor. Two years after coming of age (21 in those days), he sold it to Arthur Mohun St Ledger, the third Lord Doneraile. According to Page, "it was conveyed in 1748 to Charles Unwin, probably for the purpose of a settlement". On the death of Lord Doneraile in 1750, it was bequeathed to his cousin, Elizabeth St Ledger, afterwards the wife of Major Ralph Burton. On her marriage the estate was vested in trustees, who sold it in 1753 to the Hon Thomas Villiers who, in 1776, became the Earl of Clarendon.

The Grove was to provide a home for the Clarendons for almost two hundred years, and, through them, it emerged to become The Grove that we know today.

18th Century graffiti still visible today
18th Century graffiti still visible today

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