The Sayers of Barnard Castle

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These Sayers are first heard of near Barnard Castle in the 16th century and in later years their descendants are found in London and Buckinghamshire.

The will (79) of John Glenton of Barnard Castle, who died in 1578, mentions his cousin Isabel Saire and her sons Ralph and Francis. Isabel's husband was Hugh Saire of Startforth in Yorkshire and his will (80), proved in 1573, is among those of the Archdeaconry of Richmond. Their son Francis became a mercer at Barnard Castle and, as his second wife, married Margaret Hutton, a niece of John Glenton.

In 1590 Francis Saier was the successful plaintiff in a lawsuit (81) concerning the possession of a messuage and lands at Lartington, a Yorkshire village about two miles west of Barnard Castle. The descent of this land provides a useful clue to the next two generations of the family, for Francis in his will (82), dated 1605, leaves property at Lartington and elsewhere to his eldest son George who was then a minor. This was the George Sayer of Barnard Castle found among the signatories of the Durham Protestations of 1641 - a petition to Parliament for the maintenance of the Protestant religion. His son and heir John was baptized at Barnard Castle in March 1614/5 and some eighty years later he in his turn bequeathed a messuage in Lartington and other lands in Yorkshire to his widowed daughter Anne Bird.

A passing reference should be made to the second son of Francis Sayer - John by name - who was probably born about 1598, since a boy of that name from Lartington, entered Eton about 1610 and as a King's Scholar was admitted to King's College Cambridge in September 1615. By 1618 he was a Fellow and five years later took his MA degree and was ordained. According to Alumni Cantabrigienses he became a curate at Fordingbridge in Hampshire and was buried there.

The younger John - George's eldest son - also entered the church and the register of Worcester Cathedral records the burial of the Rev. John Sayer, sacristan, in January 1693/4, two days after he had signed the will (83) that, as already mentioned, left his Yorkshire property to his daughter. Elsewhere in his will the Rev. John directed that he should be buried as near as possible to the resting place of his son-in-law Thomas Bird.

He made his daugher sole executrix and residuary legatee and did his best to ensure that the residue should be as substantial as possible. To his son John, the rector of Old Radnor and to John's wife and children he left only £5 apiece whereas Anne Bird was to receive, besides the Yorkshire property, the money that had been left to her mother by a certain Francis Taylor and also the remainder of the lease of the Old Radnor rectory, its tithes and appurtenances. The elder John Sayer had previously assigned this rectory to his son but the will contains a sharply worded reminder that it had been assigned in trust, with no money passing, merely to enable the son to bring a lawsuit concerning certain tithes and that the testator had no intention whatever of divesting himself of his right and title to the rectory. Furthermore, he directs that if John the younger tries to dispute his sister's inheritance of the rectory and its profits, the legacies to him and his family shall be cancelled.

The London and Buckinghamshire Branch

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It is interesting to find that "Anne the wife of ...Bird" is mentioned - as a cousin - in the will (84) of a certain Philadelphia Sayer who had married the son of Henry Sayer of All Hallows, Bread Street, London, in 1673 and died in 1714. There were no doubt numerous women called Anne Bird living at that time and "cousin" was then a somewhat indefinite term, but it seems reasonable to assume that Philadelphia Sayer's cousin and the Rev. John Sayer's daugher were one and the same person. If this was the case it follows that the Rev. John and Henry Sayer were related in some way; they might for instance have been brothers but it is more likely that they were first cousins, for Henry's will, proved in 1662/3, refers to his two brothers Michael and Roger but makes no mention of John.

Henry Sayer was a Citizen and Skinner of London and was buried in All Hallows, Bread Street in 1662. He mentions one son Henry, in his will and references to his brothers-in-law indicate that the maiden name of his wife Agnes, whom he married in 1644, was Jacques. "Cozen John Dalby" is also mentioned and a note in register of baptisms at All Hallows dated October 1665 reads as follows: "Jacques s. of J. and M. Dalby was borne the 25 Aug. 1665 at Mrs Agnis Sayer's howse the Backside of Ould Brentford in ye parish of Elling in Midellsex (being ye great sickenes yeare). " Whether Agnes Sayer had returned to Ealing on becoming a widow or, like Mr Dalby, had taken temporary refuge there during the plague is a matter of conjecture. She ended her days, however, at Padworth, the Berkshire manor of her grandson Loftus Brightwell. In her will (85), dated 1688, she refers to Mr John Sayer and his wife and makes John Sayer of Islington, armiger, a supervisor of the will but gives no indication of relationship in either case. Her son Henry, whom she outlived, was born in 1646. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1670 and soon afterwards bought the manor of Hounslow from the Poveys. It was leased by Henry's heirs to William III as a hunting lodge and was finally conveyed to Whitelocke Bulstrode, the Protestant controversialist in 1706 (86?).

Henry Sayer also acquired the manor of Biddlesden, Bucks, from the Duke of Buckingham in 1681. His will (87), dated 1684, describes him as of the Inner Temple. His house in Bread Street is also mentioned from which it appears that his father's residence there, which can hardly have escaped the Great Fire, had been rebuilt.

He married twice. His first wife was Mary daughter of Francis Style of Great Missenden, who became sole heiress of the Style family after the death of her niece Elizabeth the wife of the so-called Earl of Stirling*. The only child of Henry and Mary was a daughter, also named Mary, who married Loftus Brightwell of Lincoln's Inn, squire of the manor of Padworth. The marriage licence is dated 1686 when Mary was sixteen and, her father being already dead, the necessary consent was given by her grandmother Agnes Sayer (88?). Mary Brightwell's memorial in Padworth church shows that she died in 1711.

*The title Stirling, or Storline, has been the subject of several causes celebres. The first earl was created by James I and was granted vast properties in Canada, but in default of direct male heirs the earldom became extinct and the property lapsed to the Crown. Since then, none of the claimants having been successful, the title has been in abeyance. (Parish of Padworth, ed. Clinton, 1911)

Becoming a widower while still in his twenties Henry Sayer married Philadelphia Cleaver in 1673. This lady and her sister Anne had been joint holders of the manor of Norton, Herts, which their grandfather Richard Cleaver had bought in 1629. The sisters sold the property in 1662 to William Pym of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields (91?). It remained in that family until acquired in 1903 by the First Garden City, Ltd.

Philadelphia outlived her husband by thirty years, but the last months of her life were darkened by the murder of her son John in 1713. He was then about thirty-seven and seems to have been an inoffensive but very weak character. His wife Mary Nevil, a highly immoral and rapacious young woman, was constantly unfaithful to him and finally deserted him after taking an attorney named Richard Noble as her lover. She also conspired with this man to rob her husband of money and valuables, so that he was finally imprisoned for debt. Living under an assumed name she had a child by Noble and subsequently tried to evade discovery by lodging in a disreputable quarter of Southwark. Here she and her lover were ultimately surprised by John Sayer who, coming with constables and a warrant to recover his wife, was killed then and there by a sword thrust from Noble. The murderer was executed on 28 March 1713 but Mary Sayer, who also stood trial, was acquitted (92).

An account of this unsavoury and tragic intrigue, taken from contemporary sources, is given in greater detail in an appendix headed "The Case of John Sayer Esq."

John Sayer's mother left directions in her will (93) for a monument to be erected to his memory in Biddlesden church at a cost of £60, adding that she had been at great charges and expense in and about the prosecution for the murder of her son and in obtaining Letters of Administration of his estate in trust for her grandson Henry. Her daughter and executrix was directed to settle these charges and also to pay 20 guineas to the testatrix's mother who by a second marriage had become Mrs Anne Meux. Her cousin Anne Bird, mentioned earlier, was also among the beneficiaries.

The care and education of the young Henry Sayer - then about ten years old - was entrusted to Philadelphia's half brother Thomas Meux and the boy was in due course sent to Eton. The register attaches the date 1718 to his name. In view of his mother's promiscuous habits it may be thought that his paternity was open to doubt but he seems to have been accepted without question as John Sayer's rightful son and heir.

Dr Browne Willis, the antiquary, was to have some very severe things to say about Henry Sayer. It appears that when the eight-year-old boy inherited Biddlesden manor, much of the old chapel of St. Margaret and the Abbey House was still standing, but some twenty years later Dr Willis found that he had "totally destroyed the footsteps of the Abbey so that not the least appearance remains of any ancient building". Furthermore, the churchyard of the chapel had been desecrated by digging up the coffins and "several thousand human bones removed, as he gloried in to level ground, together with the rubbish, with great indecency." It may be explained that Henry Sayer had rebuilt the house in 1731 and the adjoining church of St. Margaret in the following year. The latter continued to serve as the parish church and included among its plate a cup dated 1702 that had been given by his grandmother Philadelphia.

Henry Sayer's wife was Elizabeth the eldest daughter of Thomas Eyre Esq. of Huntercombe, or Burnham, Bucks. They were married in 1729 at Somerset House and their son Henry was born the next year. He was baptized at St. Giles-in-the-Fields and was a King's Scholar at Eton from 1742 until 1748. Through his mother he was lord of the manor of Burnham and, as Capt. Henry Sayer, was buried there in 1810, a year after his wife's death. He left the manor to his cousin Arabella and her husband John Popple and also left a trust fund of £666-13-4 for the benefit of Burnham charities.


A convent of the Cistercian order was founded here in 1147. At the Reformation its revenues were valued at £125-4-4 p.a. The site and manor were then granted to Lord Wriothesley and later bought by the Peckham family. The estate was seized by Elizabeth for a debt due to the Crown and after being held by the Greys was granted by James I to Sir George Villiers whose son, the second Duke of Buckingham, sold it to Henry Sayer. It was bought by Earl Verney in 1755 whose niece sold the property in 1791 to the Morgan family.

The Abbey ruins, whose destruction by Henry Sayer so incensed Dr Browne Willis, consisted of part of the east side of the cloister part of the tower, a small chapel and the chapter-house, a handsome chamber with a vaulted roof supported by four pillars. The chapel contained a monument to Lord Zouch, the tomb of Lord Chief Justice Billing who died in 1481 and also that of the Lovett family.

Today (1969) Biddlesden still lies in deeply rural surroundings about four miles to the north of the Buckingham – Banbury road. It has no post office, shop or public house and consists only of a few cottages near the lodge gates of Biddlesden House, with Abbey House farm a short distance away.

The Biddlesden House built by Henry Sayer is a large symmetrical mansion facing south-west and at its eastern end is an extension that connects it with St. Margaret’s church, a rectangular brick-built structure of no great size. There are a number of wall memorials to the Morgan family but there is no trace of the monument to John Sayer alluded to in his mother’s will. The Rev. Thomas Lucas, who figures in no very reputable light in “The Case of John Sayer Esq.”, is found to have been the incumbent from 1706 to 1709.

A path through a shrubbery bordering the drive leads to a graveyard. An earlier burial ground is believed to have disappeared when Henry Sayer demolished the remains of the Abbey and formed the stretch of ornamental water near the front of the house.

The estate is now owned by the Seton-Gordons and includes a stud farm for racehorses.

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