On Beacon Hill 8 – controversy

The Counter-Argument to Sydney Algernon Bicknell’s 1895 “Excerpta Biconyllae”

by Robin Bush, Somerset Historian, 1999

The first newsletter of this series drew on Sydney Bicknell’s “Five Pedigrees” of 1912, which is drawn from his “Excerpta Biconyllae” of 1895 (both of which are in Marcus Bicknell’s possession), and from his original study “A Forgotten Chancellor and Canon”, published in 1874 in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, vol.xl (ii), pp. 179-226.  It gave Sydney Algernon’s conclusions that John de Bykenhulle, of Beacon Hill in Somerset, is the first Bicknell, and the man from whom we are all descended. He was the son of Joan de l’Estre and Robert de Pavilly, of Normandy (English, Paveley) who had married in 1260 A.D.  John the son had changed his name to Bykenhulle after the name of his mother Joan’s estate, Beacon Hill, according to Sydney.

In early February 1999, an eminent Somerset historian, Robin Bush, wrote to the editors of “On Beacon Hill” (Del Bicknell and Marcus Bicknell) to give new evidence that effectively disposes of any idea that the Bicknells were descended from the Paveleys. He shows historical references to Bicknells from as early as 1201. But there is a possibility that we are descended from the Paveley ancestors “De Estre”. His letter is reproduced below in full.

All Bicknells take this news seriously, and with some excitement, as it refutes the widely-held notions of the origins of the family. Marcus has been trying to find Sydney Algernon Bicknell’s original research notes from the family files and will keep you all informed of any further discussions with Robin and of any findings.

by Robin Bush, Somerset Historian, 1999

“My name is Robin Bush and I live in Taunton, Somerset. I was contacted by a lady who met you, Derek, while walking at Castle Neroche [the site near Taunton which Sydney Algernon Bicknell claims was the original Beacon Hill which gave rise to the name Bicknell – ed.].

“I believe that she explained my association with Time Team, the archaeological action programme on Channel 4 Television.

“To give you my credentials, I am a Somerset County Councillor serving as Vice Chairman of the Information and Leisure Board (administering all Somerset libraries, Somerset Record Office, Victoria History of Somerset and Somerset Tourism). I am also Vice Chairman of the South West Museums Council. I trained in palaeography, medieval latin and diplomatic at University College, London, and am a history graduate of the University of Oxford. I served formerly as Assistant Editor of the Victoria History of Somerset (1970-78) and have worked as an archivist and historian in Somerset for the last 32 years, latterly as Deputy County Archivist at the Somerset Record Office (1978-93). I am the author of some 20 published books and monographs on the history of Somerset. For the last few years I have been actively researching early (1620-44) emigration from the English South West to New England and two volumes of my researches have been published in Ohio, a third being due out later this year.

“As such I have turned a critical eye on statements made concerning the earlier Bicknell ancestry in printed works and repeated on this website. As you know, these writings began with a paper by A.S. Bicknell, ‘A Forgotten Chancellor and Canon’, published in 1874 in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, vol.xl (ii), pp. 179-226, which purported to be a study of the Rev Dr William Biconyll (died 1448) of Wells Cathedral, but also provided an opportunity for Mr A.S. Bicknell to flex his theories on his own family’s origins. These theories were repeated uncritically in a large volume issued in America by Thomas William Bicknell, History and Genealogy of the Bicknell Family (1913), whose conclusions were again summarised in The Bicknell Genealogy by Phyllis Bicknell Carroll (1981) and made more widely available on this site.

“Firstly, you have entitled your website ‘On Beacon Hill’. This name alludes to A.S. Bicknell’s theory that the family name of Zachary Bicknell is derived from the meaning of the Somerset parish name of Bickenhall below the Blackdown Hills. Whilst it is quite likely that Zachary’s surname is indeed derived from Bickenhall, modern etymological opinion considers that the name means not ‘beacon hill’, as asserted by A.S. Bicknell, but ‘Bicca’s hall’ [ie ‘manor house’] or ‘Bicca’s hill’ (Eilert Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names (4th edition, 1960), p.41).

“With regard to the Bicknell family origins, Bicknoller manor was held in 1086 by William de Estre under Robert, count of Mortain. From William the manor descended to his son Jordan and then grandson Richard de Estre (Som. Rec. Soc. viii, pp.168-9). From them was clearly descended a further William de Estre, whose daughter and heiress Joan had married Robert de Paveley by 1243 (c.1260 according to Bicknell). Their son, John de Paveley (died 1281), married Eve, senior heiress of Sir Philip de Cantelo. After his death she married secondly William de Welles by 1291. John and Eve had two sons. The elder, John de Paveley, was born in 1278 and died in 1326 without issue. His heir was his younger brother, Robert de Paveley, described as aged 30 years and more [sic] in 1296, had married Alice by 1331. Robert left an only daughter, Cecily, who married John de Stapleton (died 1342). Their son, Robert de Stapleton, born c.1336, died without issue and the manor was inherited by Robert’s sister, Cecily (died 1364), wife of Stehen Laundey. They left three daughters of whom Alice, born c.1343, married c.1364 Thomas de Orchard of nearby Orchard Portman. To their descendants passed the manor of Bickenhall: an Orchard heiress of the 15th century carrying it to the Portman family, who held it until the 20th century. Most elements of this descent were never discovered by A.S. Bicknell. He found a taxation list of 1303 which showed that the manor of Clopton (Clapton in Crewkerne) was then held by Roger de Cloptone from John de Bykenhulle (Somerset Record Society, iii, p.52). This he claimed showed that John de Paveley (1278-1326) changed his name to Bykenhulle and that all subsequent Somerset Bicknells were descended from him. As has been stated above, this John de Paveley died without issue and his brother and brother’s widow continued to use the surname Paveley, although they left no male issue, only a daughter. Certainly the overlordship of Clapton had previously been held by the Bickenhall Paveleys, but their tenure was last mentioned in 1287, when Eve, widow of John de Paveley, recovered it from the Crown (Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, ii, p.399). As is clearly demonstrated below, there was already a Bicknell/Bickenhall family resident in the area and John de Bykenhulle of 1303 had clearly acquired the overlordship by that date. Thereafter the Clapton overlordship was not mentioned until 1484, when it was held by John son of Thomas Rodney (Public Record Office, C 142/2/17). Its detailed descent is given in the Victoria History of Somerset, vol.iv (1978). A.S. Bicknell attempted to support his erroneous conclusion by stating that he had found no reference to the surname Bicknell before the end of the 13th century (Proc. Som. Arch. Soc., xl, p.183). The following references to the surname clearly disprove this assertion.

    “1201. Walter de Bikhalle mentioned as a defendant in a suit brought by Richard de Atrio. [Som. Rec. Soc., xi, p.16.]

    “1225. Hundred of Abdick [in which Bickenhall lay]. Owain and Richard, sons of Gervase de Bickehall, killed William son of the parson of Thorn, and they fled. They were in the mainpast of Gervase their father, who has died. Richard was afterwards hanged for theft. Let Owain be exacted and outlawed. [Som. Rec. Soc., xi, p.46.]

    “1244. Mary wife of Thomas Blintvill sued Edith, formerly wife of Gervase de Bykehull for her dower in one virgate of land  in Bykehull [Bickenhall]. [Som. Rec. Soc., xi, p.330.]

    “1277. Thomas de Bykenhull a pledge for William Thurlok concerning a tenement in Torre near Hokcum [Holcombe]. [Som. Rec Soc. xli, p.101.]

    “1277. Thomas de Bickehulle and others acquitted of disseising Henry and Margery Craspinel of their free tenement in Corelaunde and Bikehulle. [Som. Rec. Soc. xli, p.121.]

    “1283. Thomas de Bykenhull a juror for the extent of the manors of Muryfeud [Merrifield in Ilton] and East Capland [in Broadway] and lands in Whitelackington, Ashill, Ilton and Isle Abbotts, all the property of John de Beauchamp. [Som. Rec. Soc. xxxv, p.113.]

    “1301. Thomas de Bykenhul, aged 62, a witness examined as to the age of John son and heir of John de Pavely, born at Cantukesheved [East or West Quantoxhead] in 1278. [Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, iv, p.37.]

“This does not represent a comprehensive search of the available sources and many more references could undoubtedly be found in the Pipe, Patent, Close and Fine Rolls, etc. These errors are also perpetuated in the prestigious A Dictionary of Surnames, ed. Patrick Hanks & Flavia Hodges (Oxford, 1988), p. 50.

“Ironically, although the Bicknells do not descend from the Paveleys, it is possible that they derive from the Paveleys’ predecessors and ancestors, the De Estre family. This, if true, would at least give the Bicknells a descent from the Domesday sub-tenant. The following entry was noted in the Somerset Pleas and it is tempting to identify Gervase with the Gervase de Bikehalle mentioned above as deceased in 1225.

    “3 July 1201. Richard del Estr’ accused of unjustly disseising Walter del Estr’ of his free tenement in Bikehal [Bickenhall] after the second crowning of King Richard [I]. The jury found that he [Walter] was disseised of the service of the tenement which Gervase his brother held of him. Let Walter have his seisin and Richard is in mercy. [Som. Rec. Soc., xi, pp.4-5.]

“The following references support the descent of the Paveley family, as I have summarised above. Again they do not represent a comprehensive search, which would undoubtedly reveal further details.

    “1218. Richard de Lestre, claimant, and Hugh, prior of Bermondsey, deforciant, concerning the advowson of the chapel of
Bikehall. Richard quitclaimed all right in the advowson and granted the demesne tithes of Bikehall to the parson of Stapel  [Staple Fitzpaine] whosall be admitted to the presentation by the prior. The dead of Bikehall should be buried at Stapel. [Som. Rec. Soc. vi, p.39.]

    “1243. Joan, who was daughter of Willam de Estre, was in the gift of our lord the king and Robert de Pavelly has married her and holdas Bikehull. [Som. Rec. Soc. xi, p. 312.]

    “1244. Robert de Pavelly and Joan his wife claimed property of their free tenement in Bygehausle and pasture in Curylande
belonging to Bygehausle. [Som. Rec. Soc. xi, p. 327.]

    “15 Mar. 1280/1. Writ for the inquest on John de Pavely, who held the manor of Bikenhulle (extent given), held of the king in chief. Also overlord of Clopton, held by John de Clopton, and Puntynton [Pointington], held by tenents of land of Richard de Childeheye. Heir his son John, aged 4. [Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, ii, pp. 231-2.]

    “6 Nov. 1287. Writ, on complaint of Eva late wife of John de Pavely, that the escheator, after the death of John de Clopton, had taken into the king’s hand the service of lands in Clopton, the service of which was her dower. The said service was restored to her. [Cal. Inq. P.M., ii, p. 399.]

    “1291. William de Welles, querent, and Eva Pavely, deforciant, for a messuage and land in West Quantoxhead. Eva granted the same to William for life then to the right heirs of Eva. For this William granted to Eva and to Robert, her son, one messuage, a mill and a carucate of land in Bikenhull. [Som. Rec. Soc. vi, p. 284.]

    “22 June 1301. Proof of age taken at Montacute of John son and heir of John de Pavely, in the wardship of William de Welles by demise of Alice Kybryak. William de Pavely of Cantukesheved, aged 42, says the said heir was 22 on the eve of St Matthew last, for he was born at Cantukesheved on that day in 6 Edward I [21 Sept. 1278] and baptised in the church there. John the [heir’s] father was in his [William’s] company in 8 Edward I. [Cal. Inq. P.M. iv, p. 37.]

    “24 Apr. 1326. Writ for the inquest on John de Pavely. Extent of Bykenhulle, two thirds of a messuage and carucate of land
(extent with tenants’ names) and the reversion of one third which Eva his mother holds in dower of his inheritance, held of the
king in chief by a quarter of a fee. Heir, his brother Robert de Pavely, aged 30 and more. [Cal. Inq. P.M., vi, p. 422.]

    “1331. Nicholas Trivet and Nicholas de Ledrede, querents, and Robert de Pavely and Alice his wife, deforciants, for the manor of Bykenhull. Robert acknowledged the right of Nicholas and Nicholas as by his gift. For this Nicholas and Nicholas granted the same to Robert and Alice to hold for their lives, and after their decease to John son of William de Stapelton and Cecilia his wife and their issue, then to the right heirs of Robert. Similar transaction between same parties for a messuage and 5 acres meadow in Fenhampton for 20 marks of silver, also a messuage and 8s 4d rent in Tauntone. [Som. Rec. Soc. xii, p.153.]

    “22 July 1342. Writ for the inquest on John de Stapilton, who held the manor of Bickenhulle with Cecily his wife, who survives him, of the king in chief by a quarter fee, and the heirs of their bodies. (Also a messuage and 8s 4d rent in Taunton of the Bishop of Winchester, a messuage, 50 acres of land and 5 acres of meadow in Fenhampton [Venhampton] of Walter de Meriet.) Heir his son, Robert, aged 6½. [Cal. Inq. P.M., viii, p. 251.]

    “20 Oct. 1354. In the inquest taken on Joan widow of Robert Syfrewast mention is made of Robert de Pavely, sometime lord of Bykenhulle, who held the manor of Hoke [Hook in Dorset] and alienated [sold] the same to John de Wroxhale, knight. [Cal. Inq. P.M., x, p. 168.]

    “[From The Particular Description of the County of Somerset by Thomas Gerard, written in 1633.] Bikenhull … which for some generacions belonged to the noble family of the Pavelies Lords also of Brooke and Westbury in Wiltshire, one of which namely Walter de Paveley was admitted by King Edward the third as not only a companion but a founder of the noble order of the garter, but this by the way for its hardly pertinent to this place, seeing his father Robert nineteene years before vizt. The fifth of Edw. The third passed this place unto John sonne of William de Stapleton (16 E.3), and father of Robert that died without issue, whereupon the lands came to his sister Cicely (36 E.3) unto her husband Stephen de Laundey, and by their three daughters and heires unto Thomas de Doddington, Thomas de Orchard and Richard de Chidhey, the descendants of of whom, if not still, untill of late time injoyed it. [Som. Rec. Soc. xv, p. 146.] [There is no evidence that Sir Walter de Paveley was son of Robert de Paveley of Bicknoller.]

“I hope that this new evidence effectively disposes of any idea that the Bicknells were descended from the Paveleys.”

Robin Bush – 5th February 1999