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                          Great Knelle Farm by Andy Polter (copyrighted but licensed for further reuse).


In the Victoria County History (VCH) of Sussex, Hastings Rape, the Hundred of Goldspur, to which belong Beckley, Broomhill, East Guldeford, Iden, Peasmarsh and Playden, Knelle manor is mentioned as being situated near Beckley. According to a map it lies actually to the northwest, consisting nowadays of Great Knelle and Little Knelle farms with the adjacent Knelle Wood. The lands bordered the river Rother who divides Kent from Sussex. At this river existed Knell fleet, where smaller ships could land and take in lumber felled in Knelle wood. In Roman times a road led from Hastings through Winchelsea to Newenden which must have passed between Northiam and Knelle to the bridge over the Rother (Beauties and Ant.).

Beckley and Knelle are not mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, however, according to VCH, the foundations of the tower of Beckley church date from the 11th C. Mentioned in the survey is Methersham, situated 1 mile northeast from Knelle. There exists a will of King Aelfred (871-899) by which he leaves to his relative Osferth his estate or 'ham' at 'Beccan lea' which has been translated into Beckley. This will mentions other manors in Sussex like Rotherfield (SAC V. 87, p. 135). Beckley means Becca's wood or clearing (A Key to Engl. Place-Names). There are discussions that this is not true, but Wace's 'Chronicles of Normandy' shows that King Harold on his trail to meet in battle with the Conqueror devastated Northiam to which Knelle then belonged, and most probably an existing manor in Beckley, was laid waste too. - In the Middle Ages 'lea' was written 'lee' and later changed into 'le' and 'leigh' and 'ley', for example Codinglee (Battle Abbey CH).

In the Middle Ages the manor lands of Knelle bordered the River Rother which divides Kent from Sussex. In those days Hastings Rape must have been sparsely populated, a great part of the land consisting of morasses, marshes and woods (The Weald). At the Conquest the Weald covered the northern range of East Sussex totally. It is thought to have been 120 miles long and 30 wide.

The introduction to the Hundred of Goldspur also lets us know that “the Hundred" was divided for purposes of taxation into the four tithings of Knelle, Heighton, Hope, and Wivelridge, of which Knelle was entirely, and Heighton mainly in Beckley”. In 1296 Heighten was still taxed together with Knelle. Goldspur had a hundred court to be held twice a year, where pleadings of view of frankpledge and pleas of life and member were judged. In 1335 at his death, John de Britannia, earl of Richmond, held 52 knight's fees, the holders of which owed homage, fealty and scutage and suit at his court every 3 weeks. Meanwhile the castle guard, to which the knight's were obliged, had been converted into dues of payment (CIPM).

In a document dated 28 Dec.1393 (TNA E 179/225/23) regarding tithes of the15th and 10th, the manor is referred to as Knelle B o r g h, the latin text says Burgo de Knelle. In the subsidies it is called Villat de Knelle and in 25 further documents being conserved in the National Archives (15th and 10th tax), it is being related to as township. In 1332 there were 27 tax payers and in 1335 were counted 29.

There exist documents telling us that the River Rother used to flood the adjoining fields when terrible storms raged. Thus in 1332 a containing wall, the Knelle dam, had to be erected, as 650 acres of land of the landowners adjacent to the river had been submerged. In 1342 this dam was already damaged and had to be repaired (CPR) - (See Geoffrey de Knelle and Isabel Aucher). - Ships from Flanders used to sail up the Rother to Small Hyde, Maythiam and Newenden, Kent, for fire wood to be loaded at Knelle Dam (GBS), probably at Knelle Fleet.

The Canterbury Cathedral Archives reveal that there was another manor called Knell 'in Ulmis' or Ash in Kent in 1227, later called Nelms. This place lies not too far from Ickham and Knolton, where Welles and Aucher members are recorded. Another Knells has been found in Ewhurst as well as 8 pieces of land in Whatlington, held by the canons of Hastings, land called Knelles in Hollington near Hastings and many others pieces of land called Knell or Knoll. Another Knells manor   existed at the southend of Northiam, probably the original one.

A recent research shows that Knelle originally existed as part of Northiam, demesne lands of the early counts of Eu, belonging to Ewherst in Hastings rape. In Dugdale's Monasticon was found an inspeximus of Henry II Count of Eu (d. 1183) confirming his grandfather's, Henry I's Count of Eu (1096-1140), charter to the College of Secular Canons at Hastings with the royal free chapel of St. Mary. The grant refers to the tithes out of his demesne lands under which are mentioned Knellâ, with 8s, Oxenbrigg, next door, with 4s, Rokeland (Rockland) with 10s and many others. - In an article in the Sussex Arch. Coll. Vol. 28  it says that the word demesne implies a manor. - In 1284 John Duke of Brittany, then lord of the rape of Hastings, confirmed once more the tenth penny out of his demesne lands  due yearly to be paid  by his sheriff to the Royal Free Chapel of Hastings, comprising Knelle with 8s (SAC, V. 13, p. 139). - Shortly before the dissolution of the abbeys and priories the Shelley family, then owners of Knelle manor, still were paying that amount out of Knelle. At one point it reads' it could not be had because the manor is in the hand of the Queen'.

As VCH informs that Rockland was granted to the Abbey of St. Martin de Bosco or "au bois" in Normandy in 1106, the above mentioned charter must have been issued before that date, probably shortly after Henry had succeeded his father to the earldom in c.1100. This explains why no Knelle knight is found in the inquest of 1166 (Liber Niger). The 'carta' of Robert, count of Eu, Henry's son,  to King Henry II, lists his tenants with the number of knight fees of the old feoffment (1100-1135 King Henry I) and explains that he holds nothing of the new feoffment (1135-1154 time King Stephen). One of the tenants of the count's demesne lands is Alured de St. Martin holding one knight's fee.The others are Robert Strabo, Robert del Broc, Daniel de Crevequer, Roger de Frean who each held 1 knights's fee, others held half a fee only. Knelle must have been received by Stephen de Knelle out of demesne lands between that date and c. 1185 -90 when he granted land to Robertsbridge abbey (Robertsbridge CH). It is possible that he was a younger son of one of the demesne knights or he stood very near to Alured de St. Martin who had married the daughter of William earl of Arundel and widow of John Count of EU and therefore received that fee.

We do not know, when Knelle manor was built. It was held of the Counts of Eu at one  military knight’s fee till they lost the rape for adhering to the French King in 1125. Afterwards it was sometimes held of the Crown or of her grantees. When the manor was sold in 1385, land in Peasmarsh, Iden, Playden, Northiam in Sussex and Withersham in Kent still belonged to it.

About one hundred years later Knelle was part of the inheritance portion of Alice Belknap, whose ancestor Robert had bought the manor a few years before 1385. From History and Antiquities: William Shelley, kt., married Alice, coheir of Henry Belknap (her father), whose family had intermarried with the most notable of the land, and thereby became entitled to Knelle, with several manors in and near Beckley, in Sussex ( In nearby Beckley exists a church dedicated to All Saints which consists of a nave, chancel and tower. A chapel at the north side is dedicated to Our Lady appurtenant to the manor of Knelle, which was burial place of those members of the Belknap family residing at Knelle.

In 1539 trees were felled in Knelle wood to procure timber for the building of Camber castle near Icklesham and to provision Calais for fortifying the castle there, as well as for Guisnes and Hammes, on order of King Henry VIII. - "To Yegor Antonie and Lalken Lame of Rosendall for freight of their ships laden with 'palkes and pulles' which came out of Knelle wode from Winchelsea to Calais at 23d a ton", and "to William Lawles of Rondon of Kent for felling in Knelle wood and delivering on shipboard of 128 tons of the King's timber, also for felling etc. and delivery of planks, logs, piles, pakes and lathe etc.10 lbs 6s." (1539, Letters and State Papers).

According to AMS 4898, datedd 9 Aug. 1777, (E. SSX Rec. Off.), Printed Sale Particulars - From Scope and Content: Land in Peasmarch, Manor of Knell and Great Knelle Farm etc. The sale was finally concluded in 1788 when Jeremiah Curteis of Rye bought it (from the Shelley family) for 16.050 lbs exclusive timber. He died in 1806 when his son Edward succeeded and held the manor in 1835. Great Knelle still  exists as a farm. It is a lovely building with five bay windows. The surrounding cottages are being let to visitors. - Great Knelle was built in the 18th C. (see picture above).

It would be interesting to know the exact position of the manor and whether there is anything left of it. I once saw a mound in an old map, which could not be printed out, situated on a small hill just south of Great Knelle Farm. The still extensive Knelle Wood as per a sales advertisement contains spring fed lakes and an assortment of trees like oak, chestnut, birch etc., a heaven for birds of all kinds. Knelle dower house, built in the 15th C, still exists. According to Beckley Council it supported a two storey extension in 2004.