The Name and Family of Barham

by Sydney Pay Barham

Chapter Eight


With Richard, the fortunes of the medieval de Berhams reached their highest level; yet he came to his inheritance in a distressful time. It was a period of time of decline into the Hundred Years War, in which the Plantagenet Kings were contending to the Crown of France. The victories of the Black Prince at Crecy and Poiters were in fact in the past; the Prince himself was stricken with a mortal illness and his father Edward III had fallen into the dotage. There followed the troubled reign of Richard II; the Peasants Revolt, the struggle of the King with his Nobles, his deposition and murder, the seizure of the Throne by the House of Lancaster, and the battles of Henry IV with the rebellious English Earls and Welshmen. Richard de Berham lived through the brief victorious years of Henry V, but he did not survive to witness the bursting of the bubble of Continental dominion under Henry's feeble son.

Sissinghurst was Richard de Berham's usual place of residence and he married a Cranbrook woman, Constance Gibbon. The Gibuns, Gybbons, or Gibbons were a family dispersed through the Weald, with branches in Cranbrook , Hawkhurst, Benenden and Rolvenden. Some at least of the members of these were clothiers and amassed a wealth from that industry. A Gibbon founded a free school at Benenden and another left a benefaction to the parish of Hawkhurst. Edward Gibbon, the historian of the 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' was a descendant of the Gibbons of Rolvenden, whose seat was the 'Hole' now known as ' Hole Park', and the residence of some of the modern Barhams.

In 1381 when his Royal namesake was newly upon the throne, Richard was appointed a Commissioner of the Peace, which was roughly equivalent to a modern J.P. or Magistrate. This was the years of the Peasant's Revolt, in which Watt Tyler lead his band of Kentish rebels to London , and fell by the sword of Lord Mayor Walworth. Two years later in 1383 Richard received from the King a commission of Oya and Termina, by which persons of note, especially in times of insurrection were given some of the powers of judges to hear and give sentence in certain classes of offence. In 1385 when invasion from France was feared, he was made Commissioner of the Array, and was thus given command of the local militia. His crowning honour came in the 14th year of Richard II (1390-91), when he was appointed Sheriff of Kent. He kept his year of sherivalty at Barham Court in Teston, presumably on account of its accessibility and nearness to Maidstone , for Sissinghurst was hidden in a remote part of the Weald, where such roads as existed were practically impassable in winter. Service under the deposed King did not debar Richard from office under the House of Lancaster. He was Commissioner of Array again in 1403, 1405, and 1407 when Henry IV was contending with rebellions in the north and in Wales. He filled the office for the last time in 1418, while Henry V was pursing his career of conquest in France. Besides his manors in Barham, Teston, and Cranbrook , Richard de Berham held estates elsewhere in Kent . In 1409-10 his name occurs in a fine concerning the manors Tremhatch and Sherlond, the former in Charing and the latter in Pluckley. Phillipot says that he also held a manor called 'Pope's Hall' in Coldred near Dover but I can find no confirmation of this in Hasted’s ‘Survey’. When a subsidy was imposed on the lay persons in the last year of Henry IV 1412-13, Richard was recorded as holding lands and rents in Kent worth £40 a year beyond reprises, i.e. after deduction of payments due. This sum may appear trifling to modern ears but it must be remembered that the value of money was vastly greater in those days. Richard must have died soon after 1418 but the date of his death and of the succession of his heir is unknown. He was most likely buried in Cranbrook parish church but if he ever had a memorial in brass or stone in that building no trace remains.

The church itself in truth is a memorial to Richard de Berham. Mr. C.C.R. Pyle in his booklet 'The Parish Church of St. Dunstan, Cranbrook', published by the Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Local History Society, says that one of the first results of the increased prosperity of the town was the rebuilding of the church which began about the middle of the 14th century, and was completed about the middle of the 16th. He adds that the tower, south porch, chancel arch and part of the north aisle were the first portions to be rebuilt, this part of the work having being finished in 1425. On the west front of the tower are four shields, two on either side of a niche now empty, which no doubt held a statue of the Virgin Mary or some Saint. The first shield on the right hand side of the niche displays the three bears that are on the arms of the de Berhams. The second shield on the right shows the armorial bearings of the family of the de Bettenhams. The first shield on the left side of the niche combines the arms of the See of Canterbury with those of Henry Chichelley, who was Archbishop from 1414-1443. There has been some uncertainty about the identity of the second shield on the left but Mr. Pyle now says they represent Benedicta , the second wife of Stephen De Bettenham, and they quarter the arms of Attowne of Throwley the family of the lady's first husband, with those of Detling, her own family

The de Bettenhams were a contemporary Cranbrook family who appear to have derived their name from the manor at Bettenham, now represented by Bettenham farm, on the eastern border of the parish, and adjoining the lands that were once held by the de Berhams of Sissinghurst. The region nearby was formerly known as Bettenham’s Wood, and the name persisted in that of the present Bettenham's Wood Farm. The house in which I am now writing stands in what was formerly called Bedlam Field, said to be a corruption of Bettenhams Field, although it is far distant from the parent manor

Stephen de Bettenham who died in 1415 left directions in his will that he should be buried in the south porch of Cranbrook church by the side of Helouise, his first wife, who was of the family of Bakers, later to replace the de Berhams at Sissinghurst.

I conclude that Richard de Berham and his neighbour Stephen de Bettenham were the principal patrons of the first stage of the rebuilding of St. Dunstan’s and that after Stephen had been buried in the newly completed south porch the work was continued by his widow Benedicta, who herself was a lady of means. When the tower was erected the names of the families chiefly concerned, together with those of the archbishop of the time were carved in the West front where they are still to be seen defying the years and the elements. The arms of Chichelley are at a higher level than the others so that there is a vacant space immediately to the left of the niche. It has been suggested that this space was intended for the arms of some other benefactor which were never added or that the shield may have been removed for religious or political reasons. My own opinion is that the arms of the archbishop under whose auspices the work on the tower was completed were raised above the level of the lay gentry out of respect for his ecclesiastical office. His shield is on the left of the central niche but it should be remembered that heraldry looks at things from the viewpoint of the wearer of the shield, so that the left hand of the beholder is the dexter or right side, the side of honour, for the wearer.If so, the archbishop takes the first place and Richard de Berham second. A view of the west front of the church showing the niche and the shields forms the frontispiece to these notes.

If Richard was in fact buried in the parish church he was not the first of the family to be so interred. In a paper on the history of St. Dunstans read before the Kent Archaeological Society in 1873 by Rev. T.A. Carr, a former vicar, it is stated that there is in existence a will of Elise de Berham, in which the testator desires his body to be buried in Cranbrook Church, and bequeathed the sum of one mark (13/4d) to every alter in the church, 1/8d to the Chaplain of the parish. The will is dated 6th April 1381, so that this otherwise unknown de Berham was a contemporary of Richard de Berham, and presumably also resident at Sissinghurst. It was about this time that the territorial 'de' was dropped from the family name, henceforth we may use the plain Berham, or a little later, Barham.

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