Saturday, 17 May 2008

Blackmore: New Book. The Smyth Family at Blackmore

An extract from the new booklet, ‘The Smyth Family At Blackmore’ (32 pages), now available from, and in aid of, the Priory Church of St Laurence, Blackmore. Price £1.50. (or via this site, plus P&P).


Blackmore’s history divides into three periods. The Church was an Augustinian Priory throughout the Middle Ages.

John Smyth purchased the site and advowson (the right to appoint a Vicar) from Henry VIII in 1540. He was one of the King’s escheators, whose name appears as an Attorney in the breaking up of Blackmore Priory in 1525.

The family dominated the parish’s history for five generations, until Thomas, the last surviving member died without issue in 1721.

The Smyth’s sold the Priory land to a ship-builder named Jacob Acworth in 1714. Thomas Smyth left his property, Smyth Hall, to his niece, Mary Tendring. It passed to her cousin, Thomas Alexander, in 1732, on condition that he adopted the name Smyth.

Thomas Smyth, though, left the Rectory to his cousin, John Gibson, son of John Gibson D.D., Provost of Queen’s College, Oxford. Upon his decease, both Smyth Hall and the Rectory passed to Charles Alexander. The Crickitt family later held the advowson. Since then there have been various holders. Patronage finally ceased, in 1899, when responsibility for nominating a Vicar passed to the Bishop of St Albans. In 1914, Blackmore transferred to the newly created Diocese of Chelmsford.

John Smyth (1498 – 1543)

John was the second son of Thomas Smyth, of Rivenhall, a family who descended from Sir Michael Carrington, standard bearer to King Richard I during the Crusades. The family apparently fled to France when Richard II was deposed and changed their name, early in the 15th century, from Carrington to Smyth on return to England.

The Smyth family was related to Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife. John’s brother, Clement married Dorothy, the sister of Lady Jane Seymour.

In the Essex Record Office [ERO D/DQ 55/36] are copies of the original sale Deed in Latin and an English translation, dating from 1714.

Henry the Eighth by the grace of God of England … King Defender of the Faith Lord of Ireland and on Earth Supreme Head of the English Church . To all whom those present Letters patent shall ye know that for the sum of Five hundred and sixty three pounds and five shillings of lawfull money to the hands of the Eroafuror (Escheator?) of the Court of Augman … by our John Smith of Blakamore otherwise called Blakemore in the County of Essex … have given and granted and by those present … to the said John Smith and Elizabeth his Wife All our Lordshipp and Mannor of Blakemore with all its rights … and appurtances … lately belonging and apportaining to the late Monastery of Waltham Holy Cross in the County of Essex lately dissolved and being parcel of the possessions of the late Monastry. And also all Messuages Houses … Lands … Pastures … Woods … And all the profits … lyeing in the villag or parishes of … Blakemore Shellow Norton Shenfield and Stondon … to the said John Smith and his assignees … And also all the Rectory and Church of Blakemore ... [of] the said late Monstery. … And the Advowson … of the parish Church of Blakemore … [the] shopp … being in the parish of the Blessed Virgin Mary Colechurch in our City of London. And also a garden … lyeing in Fenchurchstreet … in our said City of London … [from] Abbot Fuller late Abbot of the late Monastory or any other of his … Abbots of the said late Monastory … in right of that late Monastory at any time before the Dissolution … And further by gift … doo grant to the said John Smith All that our Messuages and grange or farms called Woodbarnes … in Ging at stone … and to the late Monastery of Berking … .

This document, dated 22nd September 1540, meant that John Smyth now held the manor, rectory and advowson (the right to appoint a priest).

At that time about two fifths of the County’s land was sold, which represented one of the biggest sales of property since the Norman Conquest. For example, when Barking Abbey was suppressed, Sir William Petre bought Ingatestone Manor for £849 12s 6d, paying the King, in full, by instalments. Sir Thomas Audley did one better receiving Walden Abbey as a gift.

John Smyth received in the same year, as a gift from Henry VIII, property previously belonging to William Pawne. The original Deed bears the great seal of the King [ERO D/DRm T5/21]. An English translation is given:

John Smyth Esquire in our Court before the Justices at Westminster impleaded William Pawne and Ellen his Wife of Four Messuages* one Dovehouse One Hundred Acres of Land twenty Acres of Meadow twenty Acres of Pastuer and twelve Acres of Wood with the Appurtances in Blakemore and High Ongar by a Writ of Entity upon Disseisin** …. And into which the same William and Ellen have not Entry but after the Disseisin which Hugh Hunt … hath made to the aforesaid John ….

Smyth sold 30 acres of this land the following year [ERO D/DBm T5/22].

John Smyth died in late summer 1543, about the same time as the demolition of the priory buildings. In the inventories of his will, dated 10th May that same year, he mentions the contents of his private chapel in his manor house, Smyth Hall.

In the chapel chamber, a long setle joyned. In the chapel, one aulter of joyner’s work. Item, a table with two leaves of passion gilt [a panelled ditych]. Item, a long setle of wainscott. Item, a bell hanging over the chapel. Chapel stuff, copes and vestments three. Aulter fronts four, corporal case one, and dyvers peces of silk necessary for cushyons v. [Cutts 1914 p434].

The reference to the bell, according to Mrs E E Wilde (1913) was probably to the one hanging, at the beginning of the twentieth century, in the stables at The Hyde, Ingatestone. The bell, dating from around 1340, inscribed PETRUS DE WESTON ME FECIT, was probably a Sanctus bell. “Tradition says that it came from Blackmore Priory”. She suggests that when Smyth Hall, the house originally owned by the Smyth family, was demolished in 1844, “this bell may very probably have been bought there by Mr John Disney of the Hyde, who was a great collector of antiquities” [Wilde 1913 p103].

The Will does not mention altar vessels, as these were probably included with the remainder of the silver, indicative of the Smyth’s wealth.


* A messuage is a dwelling house.
** A disseisin is the removal of a seisin, or estate, from one person, placing it into the ownership of another.


Cutts. Rev Edward L. Parish Priests and Their People (SPCK, 1914)
Wilde, Mrs E E. Ingatestone and the Great Essex Road, with Fryerning (Oxford University Press, 1913)

Essex Record Office

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