by Ron Dale

We live in a village with a long and interesting history and if I were asked, as I was last year, which are the most interesting sites in the village of Stanstead Abbotts, it was an easy question to answer. To put them in the order of importance, however, is mainly a matter of individual preference, but the following are my top three choices.  Rye House is famous for three different reasons from different centuries.    Unfortunately, at my number one choice, there is nothing to see and you may need to use your powers of imagination, but you will know why when you read the following:


In 2014 I made a  study of the 12th ce1.ntury charters of Waltham Abbey when it was noticed on these property transfer documents that a site known as Alwine’s Frith  was occupied by Sir Simon de Stanstede, the manorial knight.  The land was at this time owned by the Norman lord of the manor, Roger de Wanchy who leased it to Sir Simon.  This property had been previously owned by the Saxon lord Alwine as it bears his name and it is possible that he once lived there as property is mentioned in the charters. For nearly 900 years it had just remained a name buried within the Latin charters of the abbey. With some detective work it became possible to locate the frith from an old map, although it was not marked under the name of Alwine’s Frith. One summer’s day in 2014, the search was made on the ground. As I am no longer mobile, a friend shared this memorable experience with me by driving me to the high lands of our village. A frith wood is a pagan spiritual centre where tribal meetings were held and where sanctuary prevailed, and in earlier times was the most important part of any Saxon village. Once, primitive gods were worshipped there. Dick Dixon and I located the site on the ground. On  the latest map the site had been a ten-acre wood.

    Alwine was the Saxon lord of the manor mentioned in the Domesday Book.  To stand on the soil where the path entered the frith wood, once trodden by a known village lord, and Sir Simon and possibly pagan Saxons from earlier centuries, was a very humbling experience; it was as if just for a brief moment in time the hazy curtain of the past had parted and allowed us to feel personal contact from centuries ago. I felt very privileged to be standing next to a spring which supplied water for our earlier Saxon lords. It was an experience never to be repeated. The Saxon lord Alwine was a Christian, of course,  and is believed to be responsible for the first building of the parish church of St. James at Stanstead Bury, circa 1050. However, frith is a pagan word and tells us that it was used long before Alwine’s time. It has a multi-faceted meaning with many subtleties. It is a spiritual place, either in a wood or on the edges of it; it is also a way of life worthy of, and requiring, our study.  It is not in anyone’s interest to disclose the exact location of Alwine’s Frith as today it is no longer a wood. It is just a humble, cultivated field growing crops and there is nothing to be seen there in any event.(Further details of this discovery  are to be found elsewhere on this web-site)


When Sir Thomas Parr died in 1517 at his Blackfriars home, Lady Maud with her three young children had just settled into their new rural home at Rye House Castle, Stanstead Abbotts, leased from the cousin of Sir Thomas, Sir Andrew Ogard.  He was the grandson of the original builder of the house in 1443, Danish knight Sir Andrew Ogard.  Sir Thomas wanted his children reared in a more  salubrious environment than London as Rye House was then in a pleasant countryside area.  At this time Katherine was only five years old and she had a younger brother, William, and a younger sister, Anne. She lived at Rye House until the first of her four marriages in 1529. The 12 years she lived there were the most formative of her life as her mother was determined her children should receive a good education. Lady Maud Parr was lady-in-waiting and friend of Queen Katherine of Aragon, hence her daughter’s name. Here she was brought up in a stable family background surrounded by her siblings and Parr cousins, and at Rye House her mother created a school for all these children.   The park surrounding Rye House afforded plenty of space for riding, hunting and hawking, pursuits much enjoyed by Katherine. Today only the Gatehouse remains and this cannot do justice to the splendid sight which the castle itself in its prime would have reflected. In the 15th century, in its red-brick livery, its tower, barley-twist chimneys and moated drawbridge It would have been a sight to impress the locals as this was believed to be the first brick-built house in the county.

     Katherine had a passionate interest in theology and her devotional books became best-sellers of their day, reflecting the mastery of her native tongue and other languages taught at Rye House. She was also particularly good at mathematics and was the most intellectual of Henry VIII six wives.

    Katherine Parr (1512-1548) was Queen of England from 1543 until Henry’s death in 1547. She had married the King reluctantly but was nevertheless an admirable wife to Henry VIII and enjoyed a close relationship as stepmother to his two children, Elizabeth and Edward, both later becoming monarchs themselves.  Six months after the King’s death she was able finally to marry her true love, Thomas Seymour, but she died shortly afterwards at the young age of about 35/36.


Richard Rumbold, born about 1622, joined Cromwell’s army at 19, fought at Dunbar and Worcester and was a guard on the scaffold at the execution of King Charles I in 1649. He later married the widow of a maltster living in Rye House which had its own malt-house. Somehow he became embroiled in the alleged plot to assassinate King Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York as they returned from Newmarket Races when they had to pass Rye House.

    There was talk of secret meetings amongst the aristocracy as many were disaffected with the Catholic leanings of the royal brothers. But it seems unlikely that men in high positions would consort with a humble retired soldier working in a malt-house in Stanstead Abbotts. Little is known about Rumbold and his life here, except that it is recorded that he was a religious dissenter and fervently Republican.

    When news of the alleged plot was out, many arrests and executions followed. Most were innocent, but some historians believe that Charles and James used the plot to rid themselves of their Republican enemies. Rumbold had fled to Holland where in 1685 he returned under the Duke of Argyll who tried to raise an army against the newly-crowned King James. This failed and Rumbold was badly wounded and captured. He was taken quickly to Edinburgh where he was tried, condemned and cruelly executed on the same day. The Duke of Argyll, himself awaiting execution, praised Rumbold’s bravery on his way to the scaffold. History has still not decided whether Richard Rumbold was a villain or a hero. The principles embodied in his words over three centuries ago still hold good today. For a simple man his observations on class distinction and ignorance of the masses to see through the delusion he refers to, tell us that he was a very special kind of man who sought only freedom from oppression.

    Rumbold’s scaffold speech is included in The World of Famous Orations, and was obviously spontaneous. A brief snippet ‘..... this is a deluded generation,  veiled with ignorance, that tho popery and slavery be riding in upon them, do not perceive it; tho I am sure that no man born marked to  God above another, none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any born booted and spurred to ride him .....’ These words were spoken as he waited for his death on the scaffold, wounded from the recent battle and near death from this. He was a simple man, but a brave one.

    For further details of the Rye House Plot see elsewhere on this web-site The Plot That Never Was.        

    In the 19th century, Rye House once again became famous as the most popular outdoor day excursion in the South-East. Owner of the site and nearby Rye House Inn, William Henry Teale, was responsible for attracting thousands of London visitors to the tiny station   at Rye House, specially built for his inn and his pleasure gardens he created there. On busy days there were often as many as 10,000 visitors arriving by train and coach. Further details of these are to be found elsewhere on this web-site under Rye House Notes. This fame endured into the 20th century and today there are still some entertainments at Rye House, although of a very different nature.


Stanstead Bury is a site which contains today a house bearing this name and the nearby ancient church of St. James. The house is without doubt the most magnificent house in the village. However, you will not find it in the modern village as it is situated next to the old parish church of St. James, about a mile away, built on a strategic site overlooking the valleys of the rivers Stort and Lea. Evidence proves that the Romans and Saxons had also made use of this site. Roman tiles of the 4th century have been re-used in the church and an archaeological survey in 2005 reported the possibility of there once having been a Roman villa on the site.

    English Heritage state that the oldest part of the house was built in the late 15th century when the house and the manor were owned by the abbot of Waltham. In 1531 the abbot returned the manor to Henry VIII. The first recorded private occupant was Edward Baesh, in 1559. He had served under several monarchs from 1550 to his death in 1587 as General Surveyor of Victuals for the Royal Navy. Queen Eizabeth I granted him the manor on his retirement, but he continued working up to his death.  His descendants inherited and his grandson, another Edward (1584-1653) became a wealthy man, serving under King Charles I, and was knighted. His name is still today remembered for his generosity to the village. He built a Boys Grammar School, now the Clock House. He built almshouses for village widows and a Vicarage, both still in Roydon Road.  In the 16th century the house had substantial gardens with orchard, bowling-green, fish ponds, canals and a pleasure garden. Being part of the king’s hunting ground when based at Hunsdon Palace, where his three children were reared, Henry VIII was often to be seen galloping around the area.

    Until 1783 Stanstead Bury served as the village manor house where regular manorial meetings were held to conduct village matters. Queen Elizabeth I visited there three times  during her summer trips, staying at Stanstead Bury for several days.  Much of the latter time the house and manor were held by Sir Thomas Feilde and his descendants.   After 1783 the house was sold out of the manor and leased out to a variety of tenants. Today it has been the family home of the Trower family since the 1850s. Mr. Jonathan Trower was appointed High Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 2015. Although it is a private family home, it does have open days by appointment only, in summer. See details on Stanstead Bury web-site. St. James church was built circa 1060 A.D. and much of its interior is of the original 18th century.

    Whilst there are other parts of Stanstead Abbotts which are of interest, these three certainly contain the most history. Other places are Easneye, the historic maltings, even parts of the High Street are far more ancient than their modern frontages reflect. In Stanstead Abbotts you are surrounded by history, if you know where to look...

Ron Dale, November, 2017