The Tudor manor and its owners
In 1509 Edward Cheseman, Cofferer to King Henry VII, was an attendant at the king’s funeral. His office seems to have been roughly comparable with that of Keeper of the Wardrobe and it seems that he owed his elevation to services to Henry Tudor during the Wars of the Roses. The king died in April and Cheseman survived him only a few months for he himself died in August of the same year. His will12 still exists and gives us much information about the state of his household and family. Joan, his widow, later remarried, and his son, Robert, inherited the great house at Dormans Wells. The house was his, apparently, though the manorial rights were only leased from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
During Robert Cheseman’s time important repairs were carried out on the Brent Bridge. Owing to the poor state of repair it was decided to rebuild the bridge, and this was done about 1530 at the expense of the Archbishop and Abbot of Westminster as owners of the land on either side of the river. By this time the Priors of Ogbourne had surrendered their land in Norwood. The builder’s account book13 survives and sheds much light on the relative cost of wages, materials and transport.
In 1533 Robert Cheseman’s portrait was painted by Hans Holbein, the painter of several famous portraits of Henry VIII. At this time Cheseman was 48 and approaching the height of his influence and power. Both he and his father had served two successive kings in various capacities; on 31st December, 1539, for example, he was one of the 120 esquires sent to meet Anne of Cleves on her arrival from Düsseldorf to marry Henry VIII. This party was led by Thomas Fiennes, 9th Baron Dacre of the South, of whom more later, and apart from Cheseman included Leonard Chamberlayne, the father of Francis who married Cheseman’s daughter. Cheseman was also concerned with the trials of Queen Katherine Howard and Cardinal Wolsey. With his brother-in-law, John Tawe, he was often appointed to serve on royal commissions and act as justice for the country.
In 1543 Henry VIII recieved the manors of Hayes, Norwood and Southall from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in exchange for lands in Kent. The two manors in the precinct – Norwood and Southall – were immediately sold to Robert Cheseman, already effectively lord of the manors. He thus became the first lord of the manor actually to live at Dormans Well.
Edward Cheseman, you will remember, had died in the same year as his royal master, Henry VII. By a curious coincidence his son, Robert, was destined to die in the same year as his master, Henry VIII, in 1547. His will14 was drawn up in October 1546 and proved the following year. In it he makes specific provision for the disposal of Dormans Well with its ‘deare, conyes, pigeons and fyshe wyth all gardens and orchardes’ [any animal could be called ‘deer’ in Tudor times, but this probably should be taken to mean the same as what we now call deer]. At this time Dormandeswell was large enough to have its own chapel, and indeed, situated so far from the parish and precinct churches, it would have needed it though later generations seem to have had to do without.
Robert Cheseman’s first wife, Eleanor, had died childless. His second wife was Alice, the daughter of Henry Dacres of Mayfield, Staffordshire, and merchant-tailor of London. She survived until 1558. They had a daughter Anne, who before the death of her father and while still very young was married to Francis Chamberlayne. Cheseman was burried with his father in Norwood church: the inscription on their tomb is inaccurate. Some writers have said that Alice Cheseman was the widow of one of the Barons Dacre, but this confusion arises partly from the close similarity of the names, and partly from the fact that the manor later passed into the hands of another Lord Dacre.