The Gunton Family

The Guntons are a long-forgotten family that were once of great importance to Martham for about 200 years up to 1320. They owned the Moregrove estate and were instrumental to the history and development of St Mary the Virgin church.

There were two Gunton estates. One was Gunton, near Lowestoft in Suffolk and the other concerns the Gunton family from Erpingham, north Norfolk which is about 4½ miles north west North Walsham and 5½ north of Aylsham.

Some early records call Moregrove the Gunton Estate. This is not an error as the manor was held by the Gunton family for many generations from the 12th to early 14th centuries.

Piecing together the Gunton family genealogy and land holdings is complex as records going back that far are hazy, have been subject to individual interpretation, which include contradictions, and there are large gaps between dates.  To make research more difficult over the generations the family repeatedly called sons Matthew and Roger and several are recorded without any dates at all. Most of the following information comes from antiquarians of the 1700’s which means they collated it  400 to 500 years after the actual events giving rise to obvious problems but they remain the only sources available. The main compiler was Francis Blomefield who you can read more about HERE. These are some of the facts:

The Gunton estate at Erpingham was granted to William Beaufoe, Bishop of Thetford, by William the Conqueror (1066-1087) and held in his own right as a lay fee(A&D). (In this case ‘own right as a lay fee” meant the highest estate that an individual could have because it was total ownership of all land and structures attached to it. It was complete ownership absent of all conditions limitations or restrictions).

Gunton Manor was originally the home of the Guntons from 1122 until about 1320 and supporting this in 1122 we come across the first mention of a Mathew de Gunton being recorded as being Lord of the Manor in the reign of Henry I. The family holdings also included land at Martham, Hemsby, Dalling, Worstead, and Caister(A&H).

Mathew de Gunton(1) had two sons who were Roger(2) and Thomas(3) who each had a moiety, (share), of the Overall and Netherhall Manors at Pincel Green, Dedham, Suffolk as well as other manors.

The family tree looks like this:

In about 1160 the Gunton Manor in Martham (Moregrove as we know it) included the church and the above Roger De Gunton(2) gave St. Mary’s Church with all its appurtenances and with the consent of Nicholas his son and heir, to the priory and convent of Norwich. At that time, the Bishop was William Beaufoe. Witnesses to this transaction included Abbot Danyel (of Holm), William and Roger archdeacons, William de Hasting, Alan de Bellofago. They all held high ranking positions in the church or crown. Abbot Danyel (Daniel) was the Abbot of St Benet’s Abbey in about 1151 and he died in 1168. William De Hastings lived from 1165 to 1225 and died at Swaffham and at one time was a steward to Henry II. Alan de Bellofago was also known as Beaufoe and was believed to be related to Bishop William Beafoe in the mid 1100’s. William & Roger were archdeacons of the Norwich Priory in around 1168(E).  The witnesses were all alive in 1160 which supports the date of the gift of the church by Roger De Gunton(2) and indicates the influential levels he moved in.  Blomefield’s original entry reads(A):
The Church is dedicated to St. Mary and was a rectory, valued at 37 marks, and given by Roger de Gunton with all its appurtenances, with the consent of Nicholas his son and heir, in the presence of William Bishop of Norwich for the redemption of his soul, to the prior and convent of Norwich. Witnesses, Abbot Danyel (of Holm), William and Roger archdeacons, William de Hasting, Alan de Bellofago, and this was about the year 1160 and was confirmed by the aforesaid Bishop.”

It was not unusual for landowners in the 12th century to grant their private churches to ecclesiastical institutions, both as a pious act and in the expectation of prayers being said for the redemption of their soul. Roger de Gunton(2) made this gift and Adam de Walsingham was appointed as the Vicar. Also in 1160 records for the manor of Rollesby(A) show that it was held by “a large family known as Gunton” and that Roger de Gunton(2) held  four Knight’s Fees and 200 acres there. (A knight’s fee was a measure of land deemed sufficient to support a knight. It was effectively the size of a fief” sufficient to support one knight in the ongoing performance of his feudal duties. If a knight’s fee was deemed co-terminus with a manor, an average size would be between about 1,500 acres, of which much in early times may have included uncultivated forest, marsh or moorland).

In 1199, during the first year of the reign of King John, there was a dispute over land ownership in Martham and Hemsby between Walter de Basingham & the Prior of Norwich and the family of De Gunton who were said to have a considerable land holding in Martham (1&2).

In 1224 (the eighth year of Henry III) another Matthew de Gunton(4), a descendant of Roger de Gunton (2), held possession of the manor of Gunton and also manor lands in Martham, that must have been Moregrove although it was not called by that name at the time.  As lord of the manor of Moregrove Matthew(4) had the right to appoint rectors (called an advowson) but in 1224 he gave the right to the Monastery and Priory at Norwich Cathedral on the understanding that the monks would pray for his soul and the souls of his family and servants.  As a result of this gift St Mary the Virgin comes under the patronage of Norwich Cathedral and the Cathedral remains responsible to this day for appointing parish priests. Matthew(4) also gave the church nine acres of land which was probably near to it as much, much later the church gave land where the former first school was built and sold other glebe land in School Road for housing.
Blomefield
’s original entry reads(A): Matthew de Gunton, granted by fine in the 8th of Henry III to William, prior of Norwich, the advowson of the church of Martham; who received Matthew and all his men or tenants to be partioners in all the prayers of their convent; and in the following year, he also gave 9 acres of land here to master Adam de Wausingham, and his successors, in the church of St. Mary of Martham, Adam paying to him 40s per annum..

Matthew(4) died in 1276. He had been married to Isabell Castre (Caister)(5) daughter and heir of Sir Robert de Castre. They had two sons and five daughters. One son was called Roger(6) who appears to have inherited the lands and lordship of Rollesby and/or died before his brother John(7) who inherited Moregrove. John died without issue soon afterwards in 1277 and his inheritance, which included Moregrove, reverted to his sisters(A):

  • Juliana(8), married to Simon Peche or Poche.
  • Margery(9), also known as Margaret, married John de Melwood or Methwold.
  • Catherine, or Katherine(10), who married Simon de Lincoln.
  • Sibill(11) married fist, John de Gimingham & second, William de Crostweyt or Crosthwaite.  
  • Isabell(12) (who was sometimes recorded as Elizabeth) married first, Roger de Bavent;  second, William de Stalham and thirdly Laurence de Huntingfeld or Huntingfield.

All the daughters made good marriages but it seems that none of them ever lived at Martham. They are important however because all five held Moregrove by frank pledge which was a system of joint ownership of land etc and was common in England throughout the early Middle Ages, the essential characteristic were the sharing of responsibility among persons connected in tithings. There are subsequent mentions of some of them in relationship to Moregrove.

At an unknown date Simon Peche (Poche) and his wife Juliana were recorded as being benefactors of the Church at Martham.(A&B)

In 1287 Roger de Bavent and his wife Isabell(12) disputed the terms of the frank pledge in the manor of Moregrove with John de Methwold & Margery(9);  Simon de Lincoln & Catherine(10); John de Gimingham & Sibill(11); and Simon Peche & Juliana(8).  From this we know that all five sisters and their husbands owned Moregrove jointly and had sufficient interest in it to dispute the frank pledge arrangements.

We don’t know the exact date but probably before 1292 Roger de Gunton(6) the son of Matthew gave, by undated deed, to God and the church of the Holy Trinity of Norwich, a messuage (house) at Martham and twelve acres of adjoining arable land.  Adam de Walsingham was made Vicar(J), free from all services, for the life of Isabell de Castre(5) his mother-in-law and after her death, to the priory, paying to him and his successors 2s. per annum – witnesses, Reyner de Burgo, William de Stalham, Knights, & Robert de Mauteby. It seems from this that Adam de Walsingham, who was probably a descendent of the Adam De Wausingham of 1122, had married one of the Gunton heirs, a daughter of Isabell(5), but it is not known which one. It is likely that the house (messuage) given by Roger de Gunton(6) was the forerunner of the existing Rectory in Repps Road. This building and its nearby Rectory Farm once had a huge tithe barn nearby which was needed at the time to store the tithes mostly made up of cereal crops.

Blomefield’s original entry reads(A): “Roger de Gunton, probably son of Matthew, gave by deed sans date, to God and the church of the Holy Trinity of Norwich, a messuage here, and 12 acres of arable land adjoining, late Mr. Adam de Wausingham’s, free from all services, for the life of Isabell de Castre his mother-in-law, and after her decease, to the priory, paying to him and his successors 2s. per annum.—witnesses, Reyner de Burgo, William de Stalham, Knts. Robert de Mauteby, &c.”

The Stowe Survey of 1292 tells us that some members of the Gunton family had adopted the name ‘de Martham’(E) which indicates they actually lived in the village. Robert de Martham appears in various charters in the late 13th century and in the Stowe Survey has recorded him as living at Moregrove Field. It was not unusual at that time for people to take the name of the place they lived. Robert seems to have been born a ‘Gunton’ and changed his name to ‘of Martham’. Moregrove, by name, now definitely existed and had a manor house.  

The split ownership of Moregrove between the five sisters then became complex not least because ownership would have been held in the names of their husbands. Subsequent dates of death and inheritance are not clear but there are two subsequent related records by Blomefield as follows:-

An important transaction to the history of Moregrove took place in 1316, the 9th year of the reign of Edward II, when John the son of Sibill(11) and her husband William de Crostweyt (Crosthwaite)  sold (their portion of Moregrove) lands in Martham to Robert the son of Warine (William?) de Martham. We can see from this that some of the shares the sisters held in Moregrove were changing.  

Meanwhile on another side of the family in 1322, there are records that hint that a Laurence de Huntingfeld held part of the Manor of Moregrove from, Isabell(12), (the former wife of Roger de Bavent) and that they had married(A).  The dispute between the Prior and Laurence de Huntingfeld was based on them both claiming services from some of their tenants which arose after the Prior had passed lands and services to Laurence. Some of the land belonging to each manor lay intermingled in the open fields and as a result some tenants were obliged to do service to both Lords which was deemed to be ‘irrational and without justice’. The Prior and Laurence agreed they should only work for one and made suitable arrangements(A&E).

Also, in 1322,  Bartholomew, a son of Laurence de Huntingfeld gave his interests in the Moregrove manor to the Prior of Norwich. In 1347 Thomas de Huntingfeld the brother of Bartholomew owned half the manor of Martham after his father Laurence de Huntingfeld had died.

In 1342 another Robert de Martham, probably a descendant of the earlier Robert gave the Abbess of the Nuns of St. Clare, 20 marks per annum of his income from lands and tenements at Moregrove, Horsey, Repps, and Bastwick, during the lifetime of Catherine, late wife of John de Ingham deceased, she being then a nun there.  It may be that Robert de Martham purchased or (if he was a Gunton) inherited other parts of the manor from his ancestors.  

There are no further records (that I have found so far) relating to this branch of the Guntons and because their land ownership passed down the female line, the Gunton name died out.

Summary

  • In about 1160 the Gunton/Moregrove manor included St Mary the Virgin which Roger De Gunton gave to the priory and convent of Norwich.
  • In 1224 Matthew de Gunton (probably the grandson of Roger) was lord of the Manor of Moregrove and had the right to appoint rectors which he gave to the Monastery and Priory at Norwich Cathedral on the understanding that the monks would pray for his soul.  He also gave the church nine acres of land near the church.
  • Sometime before 1292 Roger de Gunton, the son of Matthew, gave the Cathedral at Norwich a house, probably for a rectory, at Martham plus 12 acres of adjoining arable land.

The present St Mary’s Church dates mainly to the 14th and 15th centuries but building work to the tower footings in 1999 revealed of an earlier round-towered church had existed. Parts of the existing church like doors, the font, windows and medieval glass also date from 1066AD to 1539AD.

I believe the Gunton family built the first round tower church in Martham. The above events prove they owned land in the village centred at Moregrove. They were well established at Gunton by the very early 12th century, they had the wealth and were very well connected to the highest strata of East Anglian society. Importantly they demonstrate pious acts over many years across generations. To give land and buildings so generously to the Cathedral at Norwich must surely have meant they owned the land and built the church, possibly for private use, in the first place.

Sources:

(A) An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk  by Francis Blomefield.
(B) http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=78420.
(C) http://www.guntonfamily.com/history.php. “History of the Gunton Name”.(D) http://www.knight-france.com/geneal/names/2390.htm
(E) ‘Medieval Flegg’ by Barbara Cornford.
(F) https://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Gunton#ixzz6UdjJKczC
(G) http://awtc.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=REG&db=:2870842&id=I00654&ti=5544>:
(H) Sketch of the Life of Dr. William Gunton by Byron Sunderland. Published 1878.
(J) In the Domesday Book Martham was held by the King, Count Alan, the Bishop of Thetford and St Benet’s Abbey. The Bishop of Thetford’s holding was the most valuable and included a church with 50 acres of land. The present St Mary’s dates mainly to the 14th and 15th centuries. The 15th century chancel was built by Robert Everard, the architect of Norwich Cathedral’s spire. An archaeological watching brief was carried out by the NAU in 1999 during the lowering of the floor in the west tower revealed the foundations of a round tower, probably dating to the 12th century, probable medieval graves and a small lead-melting pit containing medieval window glass. 

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