The Name and Family of Barham

by Sydney Pay Barham

Chapter Fourteen


As I have already said the earliest known bearer of the name at Wadhurst is a John Berham who is recorded in documents belonging to the Courthopes of Wylie, a family with which the Barhams intermarried. This John Berham made an enfeiffment of land in Wadhurst called 'The Den', to a man named John Shottinghurst. This implies that he owned an estate there and to use modern parlance sublet a part of it to the person named. The transaction took place before the third year of Henry VI, that is sometime before 1424-5. Thus at the time when the Kentish Barhams were enjoying prosperity on their estates at Teston and Cranbrook, there was a landed proprietor of the same name at Wadhurst. Unfor­tunately for our purpose, this John Berham is an isolated phenomenon, and the records throw no light on his antecedents or his connection with later persons of the same surname.

The continuous line of descent begins with Thomas Berham, who is heard of about the middle of the same century, and who heads the pedigree drawn up for Sir George Barham 'in 1910. No doubt he was a son, grandson or other relative of the earlier John, but his exact affiliation can no longer be determined. In the nineteenth year of Henry VI, 1440-41, Thomas Berham, with Isabella his wife, was admitted to the Court of the Manor of Bivelham, to certain lands in Wadhurst held of the Lord of the Manor, Sir John Pelham, of Loughton near Lewes. The Pelhams were an illustrious family, with wide possessions in east Sussex. A Pelham is said to have captured the French King John at the battle of Poitiers in 1356, by seizing his sword buckle, hence the Pelham Buckle, to be seen on sundry inn signs in Sussex. The tomb of another Pelham in Lewes Church bears the following quaint couplet:

What time ye French sought to have sacked Seaford, This Pelham did repel, and back aboard.

The manor of Bivelham lay between Wadhurst and Mayfield, and its name is perpetuated in that of the modern Bivelham Farm, about three miles south of Wadhurst town, and just within the parish of Mayfield.

About a century later another link between the Barhams in Kent and their namesakes in Sussex was forged as I have mentioned in an earlier section. The mother-in-law of James Barham of Teston had before her marriage to Sir Goddard Oxenbridge of Brede been the widow of one of the Pelhams, and held the manor of Bivelham as her dowry.

The name of Thomas Barham appears in other records concerning land at Wadhurst in 1446 and 1448. In 1447 and 1448 he was fined three times at the manor court for default of suit, presumably for failure to attend. He pro­bably died soon after, but the Court Roll that might have recorded the death is missing. He was succeeded by his son Richard.

The name of Richard Berham first appears at a memorial court held on the 20th February 1452-53, when John Baker, and Juliana his wife, surrendered 40 acres of land to the use of Richard Berham, and Anne his wife. Anne was the daughter of John Buss of Wadhurst who had been concerned at some time with the transactions involving Richard's father. It is possible that the Baker mentioned in the records, and others of the same surname who had dealings later with Barhams in Wadhurst, belonged to the family of the Bakers of Cranbrook, who are to purchase Sissinghurst. Thomas Baker, who began that purchase, held land in Sussex, and was a benefactor to several East Sussex churches.

To return to Richard Berham, in 1454 he was appointed 'Proposetus', or Reeve of the manor - presumably the manor of Bivelham, and in that capacity would have been responsible for collecting rents and dues. The statement of accounts that he submitted for the following year is still in existence; his name appears frequently in the rolls of the manor, between 1453 and 1470. In 1472 Anne's father died and some of his lands passed to his daughter and her husband. Richard himself died not long after, before the 27th January 1479-80. He left two sons, distinguished by their places of residence, as Nicholas of Wadhurst, and John of Bivelham.

On the 2nd January 1470-71, Sir John Pelham, Lord of the manor of Bivelham, signed a will, the witnesses of which included Henry and John Berham. Mr. FitzGerald-Uniacke suggests that this Henry may have been the Henry Lord of Barham, Teston and Sissinghurst, and the other witness either a brother of Henry, or the aforesaid John of Bivelham. If this was in fact the case, we should have another link between the Kent and Sussex Barhams.

With Richard and John, the sons of Richard Berham, we reach a parting of the ways. They headed two branches of the family, which had very different destinies. The descendants of the elder - Nicholas of Wadhurst, ranged widely over Kent and Sussex, and some of them achieved wealth and distinction in the law, and in the iron industry. The descendants of John of Bivelham remained in and about Wadhurst, and were content, as it seems, to live the lives of country gentlemen, or yeoman farmers. As their story is simpler, I will begin with the members of the junior branch. From now on I will use the name in its modern form - Barham.

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