Wakehurst Place (2)
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Wakehurst Place
Ardingly, West Sussex, England

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Wakehurst Place:
The Culpeper Connection

Warren and Leigh Culpepper at Wakehurst Place, Oct 1999
Wakehurst Place, October 1999
Warren Culpepper (above)
Lee Culpepper (below)

However, as this comes from the proceedings soon taken against the brothers by the girl's grandmother, it is very likely to be prejudiced, which means that the girls may not have been quite so reluctant to go with their suitors as we are generally led to believe. They did, after all, marry them almost immediately, and much to the agitation of the grandmother who, in retaliation, refused to give up the title deeds to the girls' properties. But the grandmother seems to have been the main antagonist to the matches for, when she died in 1464, so did the furor and the two couples established themselves at Wakehurst - although twenty years later they were still seeking to recover recover land from her relatives.

One of Elizabeth Wakehurst's objections to her grand-daughter's marriages may have been that she saw their husbands as fortune hunters, for she would have known several of the Culpeper men-folk had in the past acquired much of their wealth through marrying so well. For instance, Richard's and Nicholas's father, Walter Culpeper, owned his estates near Goudhurst through his marriage to the widow of Sir John Bedgebury whose home at Bedgebury Park was one of the oldest manors in England. Walter also inherited, after the death of his half-brother, large estates at Hardreshull in Warwickshire which had once belonged to their grandfather, Sir John, through his marriage to Elizabeth, the daughter and heiress of Sir John Hardreshull - a match much approved of in the Culpeper family. Sir John's father was Sir Thomas Culpeper, first of the Culpepers at Bayhall - a line which came into existence through Sir Thomas and his brother, Walter, marrying Margery and Joanne Bayhall, sisters and heiresses to estates situated in the Pembury parish near Tunbridge Wells.

Here in Richard's and Nicholas's ancestry was a double match very like their own, except that their predecessors' marriages were not so long or so happy. Sir Thomas, who was Governor of Winchelsea, was hung, drawn and quartered there in 1321 for siding with the Earl of Lancaster against Edward II.

His brother was executed in the same year but Walter's crime was to refuse Queen Isabella entry to Leeds Castle where he was castellan, or Governor. The King had given the castle to one of his courtiers, Bartholomew Badlesmere, in 1318, although he had also promised it to his consort. So, when Badlesmere's loyalty to the crown became questionable, the Queen was dispatched to Leeds Castle, as a ruse, to demand hospitality - knowing full well what the answer would be.

Her marshal was met at the castle gate by Captain Walter Culpeper and told that "neither the Queen nor any other should be lodged there without the commandement of his Lorde the owner." Then the Queen herself went to the gate but "the Captaine most malapertly repulsed her, insomuch that she complained grievously to the King." Walter paid for the impudence with his life, for the castle was besieged forthwith and he and Badlesmere were hung. Walter's descendants were the Culpepers of Aylesford and Oxen Hoath one of whom was the mother of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's fifth bride.

Many of Sir John Culpeper's family have monuments in Goudhurst's church. The oldest is a brass commemorating John Bedgebury, his mother's first husband. There are also brasses commemorating his parents and in the same chapel is a large, carved monument to four generations of his descendants. It depicts his grandson, Sir Thomas Culpeper, his great-grandson Alexander and his great-great-grandson Anthony with some offspring. Outside the chapel, in a bay window, is a wooden monument of Sir John's son, Alexander the elder, and his wife.

Similarly, in the church at Ardingly, Sir John's brothers and their wives are commemorated. On the floor in the center of the chancel, is a brass to each of the couples. Richard and Margaret died in 1516 and 1509 respectively, after enjoying more than forty years together at Wakehurst. Although childless themselves, they must often have had to act as surrogate parents to their large brood of nephews and nieces. The brass to Nicholas and Elizabeth shows not only them but all their eighteen children, ten boys and eight girls, and has been described as 'so crowded as to look like a poster warning against rush hour travel.'

Nicholas died in 1510; Elizabeth outlived him by at least seven years, though the exact date of her death is not known, and their eldest son, Richard, inherited Wakehurst in 1516 after his uncle's death. Although not quite so prolific as his parents, Richard still had eleven children, seven sons and four daughters. In 1539, his eldest son, John, who in 1560, served as Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex, succeeded him. John's family was a mere half the size of his grandparents, but included five sons, the second of which, Thomas, was the next to inherit Wakehurst. Thomas, although he was married three times, had only one child, a son, by his second wife, Phillipa Thatcher.

From the small glimpses, which remain for us to see of Thomas's life, we can glean that he was both quick tempered and kind hearted. The first impression comes from a dispute he had with the Rev. William Williams, owner of a rectory, at Burstow in Surrey, which Thomas had leased from him. They came to blows apparently, Thomas hitting the Reverend round the head with the handle of his knife, then felling him with staff blows so that he was unable to say mass for a fortnight. The Reverend, in self-defense, grabbed hold of Thomas's beard and had to be beaten off by Thomas's servants, brought to his rescue by his wife. Next it was the Reverend's turn to cry for aid. Thomas's will shows a chastened character. He arranged for food and drink to be provided to everyone who attended his funeral and for the four poorest of the parish each to be given a cow. He also willed that his house at Wakehurst, which he described as 'verie ruinouse and altogether decaied', should be made good - a wish more than fulfilled by his only son and heir Edward.

Edward Culpeper was well matched to his role of heir to Wakehurst. He brought new life to the place with his own thirteen children and in 1590, a little more than twenty years after his inheriting the estate, completed rebuilding the house so that it was once more a family home. Its site was more or less that of the old home's; on high ground, a few hundred yards off, what is now, the B2028, and it was built of local sandstone, each stone individually marked with a mason's number or sign. The design was square-shaped, the inner walls enclosing a courtyard about twenty-one yards each side, although records show that in 1697 the south face and sides were no longer standing. The name of its architect is uncertain but there is evidence that its design may have been drawn up by John Thorpe, who was employed to work on many important houses in the south of England around that time, and some of his unidentified drawings could relate to Wakehurst. Two of its masons however, Boothe and Duke, are commemorated on the Ardingly parish register.

Rebuilding Wakehurst was not Edward's only project. He also added a great many acres of land to the family estates and in the year before the house was completed, had already bought fifty acres from a neighbor, John Langridge. A few years later, in 1593, his cousin, Richard Culpeper of Patcham, conveyed a further fifty acres to him. In 1595 he sold Chingley Manor and the ironworks, known as Chingley Forge, near Goudhurst and five years later bought sixty-six acres at Ardingly. In 1604 he became sole owner of a one hundred and twenty acre estate in Balcombe, on the south-west border of Wakehurst, after Joanne Culpeper, the widow of his cousin Thomas, conveyed her interest in it to him. This estate, known as Naylands, had originally been bought in 1542 by George Culpeper, one of Nicholas and Elizabeth's ten sons, and had been sold by George's grandson to Joanne's husband in 1574.

Another of George's grandsons was the Rev. Nicholas Culpeper and, compared with Edward, he was very much the poor relation. In 1616, when Nicholas became rector of Ockley in Surrey, Edward, by then a knight, was just in the process of purchasing another one hundred and twenty acre estate at Tillinghurst, south of Wakehurst, with the proceeds from a manor and farmhouse he had sold at Ockley the year before. Both men were direct descendants of Nicholas and Elizabeth, in fact Nicholas, although the younger of the two, was a generation closer to them, but, while Edward enjoyed his position as heir to Wakehurst, all Nicholas inherited from their common ancestors was the living at Ockley and his great-grandfather's name.

In October 1615, shortly before his move to Ockley, Nicholas married Mary Attersoll, daughter of the Rev. William Attersoll who was Rector of Isfield - a parish just a few miles from Wakehurst. This suggests that Nicholas may have been a regular visitor to Wakehurst around that time and perhaps this is how the couple met. As Edward was Nicholas's senior by twenty years, he may have acted in the capacity of patron and it seems more than a coincidence that Nicholas became Rector of Ockley just after Edward's completing his business there. The benefice had originally been presented by Elizabeth to one of her younger sons, the Rev. Edward Culpeper, in 1514, and it looks, from an item included in the will of Thomas Culpeper, that it was one over which heads of the family had retained control. However, Nicholas and Mary enjoyed only a few months together at Ockley. Mary was already pregnant when they arrived there and was expecting her child to be born some time in the October. But at the very beginning of that month, less than a year since their wedding, Nicholas died, and was buried on 5 October in the churchyard of St Margaret's. Just thirteen days later, on 18 October 1616, their son was born. Mary called him Nicholas in memory of his father, but it is the son we remember when we hear the name now.

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Last Revised: 02 Jan 2015


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