At the time of the Norman Conquest the parish of Covesgrave, as it was then called, belonged to three Saxons named Alden, Godwin and Aelric, who were dispossessed and their land given to Normans. The principal portion of the parish, together with the mill which had been Alden's, was given to Winemar the Fleming, who also received the whole of the parish of Hanslope and lands elsewhere. He built his castle in Hanslope parish, and kept the Cosgrove estate in demesne - that is he did not bestow it on an under-tenant but put in a bailiff to farm it for the benefit of the castle household.
In due course Winemar was succeeded by his son Michael de Hanslope who had an only daughter who carried all the estates to her husband, and after this Cosgrove passed through many different families by marriage, descent or sale. It appears that none of the owners ever lived at Cosgrove, as they had more important properties elsewhere - consequently there was no manor house, only a farmhouse known as the Great Farm. The tenant of the Great Farm would act as agent for the absent lord and collect and pay over the rents and manorial dues which everyone had to pay, even if they were freeholders. In the course of time, it seems that some of the manor land must have been given or sold, as a number of freehold farms grew up.
In 1653, a Lord Dacre was the lord of the manor of Cosgrove and, getting into debt with a London goldsmith named Gervase Andrews, he sold the manor to him. Andrews promptly resold the land in small lots to the freeholders, and the manorial rights or lordship to Lord Maynard, who also bought the presentation to the living. At that date the Manor of Furtho belonged to Lord Maynard's young son, Banastre Maynard, who had inherited it from his grandfather Sir Robert Banastre of Passenham; and as Furtho Manor had to pay an annual quit-rent to Cosgrove Manor on account of holding some land in Cosgrove, it seems likely that Lord Maynard bought the Cosgrove rights to save bother of doing suit of court to the lord of Cosgrove - as lord of Cosgrove he was supposed to do suit of court to Furtho, but if he was lord of both places one would cancel out the other.
George Baker, the county historian, says that the Manor House was bought by Christopher Rigby from London, but Baker must have misunderstood the evidence. There was no Manor House at that date, and although Christopher Rigby may have bought some of the manor land, he himself continued to reside in London. The Rigbys were an old yeoman family in Cosgrove who had been gradually rising. Gabriel and Henry Rigby both had freehold farms in Cosgrove, but their younger brother Christopher was a Merchant Taylor and citizen of London. In 1665 he was living in the parish of St. Mary Abchurch, and was apparently ill and expecting to die-perhaps of the Plague - as he made his will, and asked to be buried in the church of St. Mary Abchurch near his children. He had a son Christopher and a daughter Mary still alive, and his wife was expecting. He recovered, however, and eventually lived another 43 years. Rather strangely, he did not make a fresh will, which was fortunate for us as if the first one had been destroyed we should not know about his illness during the Plague year.
Twelve months later St. Mary Abchurch was burned down in the Great Fire of London, and if Christopher Rigby had not already moved to Cosgrove, he probably did so then. Perhaps his household goods were on the carts which Samuel Pepys tells us blocked Cannon Street so he could not pass, and where he met the Lord Mayor looking like one frightened out of his wits. At any rate, in 1669 the Hearth Tax Records show that Christopher Rigby paid tax on three hearths in Cosgrove - quite a modest house, and certainly not a Manor House. There were seven larger houses, and several of the same size. Besides the fortune he may have made in London, he eventually inherited the farms of his two brothers, and he or his son Christopher II may have built a new house. In 1719, when Bridges was collecting information for his county history, he was informed that Mr. Rigby had a mansion house and a considerable estate.
Christopher II died in 1722 and, in his will, asked to be buried beside his wife at the lower step inside the south entrance to the church. There was probably a memorial stone to mark the place, but all trace of that and of the south entrance to the church has vanished, and it seems likely that the south wall has been entirely rebuilt. Christopher III was an even greater man; was a J .P. and Sheriff of the county in 1734; and dined regularly with the Duke of Grafton at Wakefield. It was probably through his Lordship's influence that Christopher was appointed a Commissioner of Excise in 1765. This necessitated his living in London a great deal of the time, and he then sold Cosgrove Manor and mill and all his estate to John Biggin of London.
[Note: In 1764 Rigby sold the whole of his Cosgrove estate, including the Manor House to John Biggin of London. In the documentation at the time, the property is called "The Priory". ]
John Biggin was succeeded by his son George, who cannot have spent much time at the Manor House as he was constantly travelling both in England and on the Continent in search of scientific knowledge. He was interested in experiments of various kinds, and in company with his friend the Duke of Bedford, with whom he frequently stayed at Woburn, he experimented with the barks of different trees in an endeavour to improve the tanning of leather. He also assisted the Duke in his agricultural efforts and no doubt tried out the new ideas on his Cosgrove estate. One of George's inventions was an improved type of coffee pot which was sold extensively under the name of Coffee-Biggin. He was one of the first to go up in a balloon; was a trustee of the Opera House and Drury Lane Theatre, and a great theatre goer when in town. On returning home from a theatre on 3 November 1803 he suffered a stroke and died shortly afterwards. By his will, made some years previously, he left an annuity of £400 to a Mrs. Birch, then living apart from her husband by a legal separation deed, so long as she did not resume living with him or marry anyone else if he died, which may explain why George Biggin had never married. Any residue from the estate was to be for the maintenance and advancement in the Army of his nephew George Mansel, who was to inherit the estate in due course.
George Mansel was a younger son of Major-General John Mansel and his wife Mary Ann Biggin, the only sister of George. George Mansel duly entered the army, and rose to the rank of Captain in the 25th Light Dragoons. He died at sea on his way home from India in 1808, and by his will Cosgrove Manor estate passed to his eldest brother John Christopher Mansel - as he was already the owner of the Cosgrove Hall estate, the two properties thus became merged. After this, the Hall became in effect the Manor House though the name was not changed, and the old Manor House was renamed The Priory. It had never been the site of a priory or the property of one, but the Prior of the Knights Hospitallers had owned land and the advowson of the living before the Dissolution of the monasteries, and Snelshall Priory near Whaddon had also held some land there. John C. Mansel's wife is known to have brought from Tynemouth Priory in Northumberland a curiously carved stone which she had placed above the Hall porch, and the two Miss Lowndes from Whaddon, who were the first tenants of the Priory, may have been interested in Snelshall Priory, so the three ladies may have consulted together after reading Bridges History of the County which had not long been printed, and decided that The Priory would be a nice romantic and historical name.
Miss Mary Lowndes had a friend called Ann Gavey who lived at the Priory with the two sisters. By a lucky chance, her letters to her brother Philip in London, written between 1808 and 1827, have been found in a lawyer's office and deposited in the County Archives. Miss Mary Lowndes died in 1812, aged 76, and was buried in the aisle of Cosgrove church. Her elder sister Ann who, Miss Gavey said, was always complaining about something, lived another five years, but seems to have been buried elsewhere. Miss Gavey then had to find another home, and her letters tell of the various houses and lodgings she sampled in Deanshanger and Old Stratford where she had 'a good view of the Forest' but the water was so nasty she had to beg some from a neighbour's pump in order to have a pot of tea. However, the house had a garden and a gravel walk more like a village and what she had been used to.
Poor Miss Gavey, she wanted to be buried beside her friend Mary Lowndes in Cosgrove church, but the lawyer who wound up her small affairs advised her brother not to agree to this as it would be very expensive.
After these three ladies, The Priory saw a great change of tenant and the comings and goings then must have been a source of pleasure to quiet Cosgrove. This was General Thomas Graham, Lord Lynedoch, a national hero, second only to Wellington. He was not in the regular army. He had a very beautiful wife and was living on the Continent on account of her delicate health. She died there, and he was bringing her home in a lead coffin to be buried when a band of drunken French Revolutionaries seized the coffin, which they said contained treasure, and insisted on prising it open. They did not harm Mrs. Graham's body, but a new coffin had to be made, and he had great difficulties to surmount before he got her safely to England. Naturally he was very upset and disgusted by the soldiers' behaviour, and when soon afterwards France declared war on Great Britain he volunteered for service although he was then 45 years of age. At his own expense he raised and clothed two regiments of volunteers; he was aide-de-camp to Sir John Moore at Corunna, and was with him when he was killed; and eventually he rose to be second-in-comrnand to Wellington. When peace was signed in 1814 he was 67 years of age, and he then retired into private life. He was, however, still very active, and being fond of hunting in England he took a house in Salcey Forest, afterwards renting The Priory which he had for ten years, and where he entertained many distinguished men. At the age of 77 he had to give up hunting, not through any bodily weakness, but on account of cataract on both eyes, so departed from The Priory. This was not the end of this wonderful man because five years later he was successfully operated upon and was again able to ride. He then bought a string of racehorses from which he derived much pleasure. He also travelled a great deal, and when he finally died at the age of 95, it was in his clothes and sitting up, almost unconscious but determined not to give in.
No sooner had Lord Lynedoch given up The Priory than another distinguished man entered it, this time a sailor, Admiral Sir Robert Moorsom, who had been with Nelson at Trafalgar. He had been living at Little Linford Hall, and came to Cosgrove to be near his only daughter Maria Margaret the wife of the Rector, the Revd. Henry Longueville Mansel. Lady Moorsom died at Linford before the move and was brought to Cosgrove for burial, and Sir Robert died in 1835. There are so many Moorsom memorials in the church, placed there by Mrs. Mansel, that a guide book once said Cosgrove was for long the home of the well-known Moorsom family, and subsequently of the celebrated Mansels, whereas the truth is that the Mansels had been there for over 300 years while Sir Robert Moorsom was there for only eight.
Another Miss Lowndes lived at The Priory about 1850. She was very good to the poor, supplying them every winter with warm clothing and coal, and would be much missed, said the Northampton Mercury in reporting her death. Later still, yet another Miss Lowndes lived there for a time. At one period J.C. Mansel himself lived there while the Hall was let, but usually The Priory was occupied by men who took it for a year or so for the hunting. About 1882 J.C. Mansel sold all his estates at Cosgrove to his cousin Alexander Grant-Thorold who came to live at the Hall. Mr. Mansell moved into The Cottage, and Mr. J J. Atkinson bought The Priory in whose family it still remains.
In addition to the Priory, the principal estate in 1066, were two smaller ones which were granted to the Earl of Moretain, half brother of the Conqueror, whose principal castle was at Berkhamsted; the ruins of the keep can still be seen beside the railway line. One portion lay over on the west side of the Walling Street between Puxley and Potterspury, but very little is known about it. The other portion presumably grew into the old village of Cosgrove around the Green and the church, throwing out; a branch on the Watling Street at Old Stratford. It is perplexing that this minor portion grew into the main village, whereas the principal manor has no surviving houses around it. It seems probable that at one time there must have been a settlement near The Priory, which for some reason unknown to us, has disappeared.
The earliest under-tenant of the Earl of Moretain of whom there is any record was one Robert Rivel who was there in 1189. He probably built the first church, and gave advowson to the Prior of the Knights Hospitallers who retained it until the Dissolution, when it was seized by the Crown. From this early date the history and the lands of Cosgrove are so intermixed with those of Furtho and Potterspury, not to mention the complication of Old Stratford which was in all three parishes, that it is impossible to follow it very clearly.
In the early 17th century Sir Arthur Throckmorton of Paulerspury was lord of the manor of Cosgrove and owned 320 acres,* but Edward Furtho, lord of Furtho, owned 420 acres in Cosgrove, and actually lived there, his own house and church at Furtho being ruined. Besides the large house he lived in, he owned another capital messuage or mansion house, and the quarries appear to have been his. Bechier, an antiquary who was active at that time, said Edward Furtho was lord of a manor in Cosgrove, and although it has been impossible to find out how he became so, it does seem likely that he was descended in some way from the Rivel family. For some years before his death he was steadily accumulating stocks of stone and lime from the quarries with a view to rebuilding his manor house and church at Furtho, but he died in 1619. He was succeeded by his only son Edward who did rebuild Furtho church but perhaps not the manor house. He died unmarried only two years after his father, and his property was divided between his two sisters, Ann wife of Anthony Stanton of Great Brickhill, and Nightingale wife of Samuel Mansel, a lawyer of the Inner Temple, but descended from the ancient family of Maunsell. Ann received the Manor of Furtho and sold it to Sir Robert Banastre of Passenham.
Nightingale had the Cosgrove estate and Knotwood which really was a wood at that time. There were also houses at Old Stratford and Stony Stratford, and land there, which was divided between the sisters. Samuel and Nightingale Mansel settled at Cosgrove.in a house which no longer exists and which it is impossible to locate precisely, but it is supposed to have stood on the site of the present Hall. Samuel had Knotwood cut down and ploughed up to make a new farm of about 35 acres, quite a sensible proceedure one would think, but it caused trouble for Nightingale later on. After the death of Samuel in about 1632, Nightingale married Francis Longueville the 7th or 8th son of Sir Henry Longueville of Wolverton. A year or two later she received a demand from the crown for payment of £156, being a fine imposed on her because Knotwood had been destroyed without a licence from the king, it being part of the Royal Forest of Whittlewood. Samuel, being a lawyer, must have known that he ought to have asked for a licence, but like many other landowners at the time he risked it. Nightingale sent a petition to King Charles I begging to have the fine remitted or reduced as it was not her fault, and indeed was to her disadvantage. She had ten small children for whom she had no bread. We need not take seriously the statement that her children were starving, but it would be interesting to know if she really had ten children. Unfortunately the early registers of Furtho and Cosgrove, which might have enlightened us, are lost, thrown away, no doubt, by a tidy-minded churchwarden or cleaner.
By her second husband she seems to have had only one son Henry, and in her second widowhood she gave her own house to this Henry Longueville, the other smaller one going to her eldest son Edward Mansel. At the time of Edward Furtho's death an inventory was taken of the furniture in his house at Cosgrove, room by room, and from this we learn that it consisted of a porch, hall, parlour, study, diningroom, kitchen, back kitchen, little hall, buttery, larder, cheese chamber, dairy and brew-house. All the main rooms had bedrooms over them, and cocklofts or attics above. There was a second study over the porch, and another room over the entry, probably at the back of the house. As far as can be ascertained, this house had six fire hearths judging by the andirons and shovels mentioned in the inventory, and the furnaces in the kitchen, but it may have had more, as inventories did not always specify every item. This seems to have been the typical small Tudor manor house with three high gables and a porch carried right up to the roof. In 1669 Henry Longueville paid tax on ten hearths, to if this was indeed Edward Furtho's house, it had perhaps been added to. Nightingale was reputed to be still alive in 1681 aged 91, but it is not known when the died or where she was buried.
Henry Longueville I died in 1713, and his son Henry II in 1741. One of these two built an entirely new house which was a half-H in plan, that is with a recessed centre front and two wings projecting at right angles. The centre has since been filled in by a later owner. Henry Longueville II died without issue, and left all his property including the Hall to John Mansel the younger son of the Revd. Christopher Mansel, rector of Long Newton in Co. Durham, who was the last surviving grandson of Samuel and Nightingale. The Revd. Christopher and his elder son Edward died just before and just after Henry Longueville, leaving John Mansel the last of the Mansels. John Mansel was at this time about 20 years of age and in the Army which he seems to have made his career, though he was not of course actively engaged all the time. He rose to the rank of Major-General and was killed leading his troops at Coteau in Flanders in a charge which has been compared to that of the Light Brigade. His eldest son John Christopher was with him, and was wounded and taken prisoner in endeavouring to help his father. Major-General Mansel's blood-stained coat and his diary were long kept in a glass case at the Hall, and were given to Peterborough Museum by Mrs. Randolph. As previously mentioned, this John Mansel had married Mary Anne Biggin whose brother George left the Priory to George Mansell, the son of the Major-General. George Mansell left it to his elder brother John Christopher, who had succeeded to the Hall on the death of his father, and thus the Priory, the Hall and the Cottage, as well as much other property all merged into one estate.
Major John Christopher Mansel improved and added to the Hall by filling in the centre. In 1801 he was able to purchase the advowson of the living from Lord Maynard, and in 1810 he presented his youngest brother Henry Longueville Mansel. Gradually he acquired the whole of the land in Cosgrove buying out the freeholders, with the exception of course of Cosgrove and Furtho Glebe. At the lime of his death he owned 1100 acres. He married but had no children and his heir was another John Christopher the son of his brother Admiral Robert Mansel.
John Christopher II married his cousin Katherine Margaret Mansel daughter of the Rector, and they had an only daughter Frances Carlotta, known as Fanny, who married Rodney Granville Randolph son of Admiral Randolph. For some reason difficult to understand, unless he spent too much on hunting, shooting and yachting, John Christopher II seems always to have been in financial difficulties. It may be of course that his uncle had encumbered the estate with mortgages or annuities, these things are not always visible to outsiders, or it may be that an income derived entirely from land was not sufficient to support a country gentlemen of the time. Whatever the reason, the entail on the estate which should have descended to his nephew George Christopher had to be broken, and the estate was sold to his cousin Alexander Grant-Thorold, who moved into the Hall, while Mr. Mansel and his wife moved into the Cottage.
Alexander Grant-Thorold was succeeded by his son Harry who eventually moved into the Cottage and let the Hall. The Dowager Countess Temple was living there about 1914. After the war the Hall and estate was sold. Alexander Ferguson had the Hall and the farms were sold to various people, the County Council buying some land for small holdings. Other owners since then have been Mrs. Agar, Mr. H. Winterbottom, Major Hesketh, and now Mr. Charles Mackenzie Hill.
The Cottage and Old Dower House
It has been suggested that this stands on the site of the second house of Edward Furtho which was inherited by his grandson Edward Mansel. Edward Mansel died in 1696 and his widow in 1711. Their surviving children all lived in the north of England, and there seems to be no evidence of who lived in it after this until about 1840, when Mrs. Maria Margaret (Moorsom) Mansel, the widow of the Rector, moved in and lived there for 37 years till her death in 1877. It was then let to a Mr. Horsfall, who did nothing but complain about the deficiencies of the house, and perhaps with good reason, as it seems it rained through the roof of the best bedroom. Mr. Mansell apparently did not consider this at all serious, and their relations became so strained that all communications had to pass through the agent Mr. Fisher who lived at Market Harborough. Mr. Mansel was of course under increasing strain at this time, and was relieved when Mr. Horsfall departed, about the time the estate was sold, and so Mr. Mansel moved in, no doubt after having the roof seen to.
After the death of John C. Mansel in 1895 followed soon after by that of his widow, the next tenant was Mr. F. D. Bull the late owner of the Brewery in Northampton who had told out to Phipps. Later, Mr. Harry Grant-Thorold lived there till he sold the estate and moved to Cranford Hall near Kettering. Miss Balfour and Miss Wells then bought the Cottage, which they renamed The Old Dower House, for some years now past being lived in by Mr. A. Rickaby.
• Editor's note: Francis Lord Dacre held Cosgrove by right of his wife's inheritance. She was one of the daughters and coheiresses of Sir Arthur Throckmorton of Paulerspury whose Northamptonshire estates were granted to his father, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton by Edward VI in 1551. (see Raleigh and Throckmortons, A.L. Rowse). The later mention, under The Hall, is therefore probably not relevant to that section as his land clearly ties in, by Dacre's sale, with the Priory part of the parish.