Croft is a village about four miles south of Darlington on the Yorkshire bank of the Tees. The manor was acquired by Richard de Clervaux about 1465 (49) and later passed to the Chaytor family. Originally it consisted of 14 carucates and with it descended the holding of Jolby about two miles from Croft village. There are two farmhouses at Jolby; one dating in part from Georgian times, and the other a stone building, probably Jacobean. It seems likely that the Sayers of Croft, who were also known as of Jolby, occupied the older house which when seen in 1966 was still owned by the Chaytors. In August 1967 it was advertised for sale and described as an Elizabethan farmhouse with two main reception rooms, three bedrooms, attics, a range of outbuildings and a large garden.
The Sayers who lived at Croft may have been an offshoot of the Sayer family of Worsall, stemming perhaps from a brother or a younger son of William Sayer (1456-1516). There were, however, marked differences between the two groups. The Worsall Sayers, a succession of well-to-do squires farming on an extensive scale, were persistent recusants and, in the 17th century, militant Catholics. As a result, by 1670, they had lost all their manors and other property and are heard of no more. By contrast, the only recorded instance of recusancy in the Croft branch is that of George Sayer, yeoman, in 1625 (50) and it may be inferred that the Sayers of Croft conformed at an early stage thereby avoiding the privations undergone by their Catholic namesakes. At any rate, the Croft Sayers, who had been far less important as landowners than the family at Worsall, continued to prosper and, moreover, began to engage in more literate occupations than farming, such as the law, medicine, and the church. Later members of the family were nevertheless drawing income from properties in and around Croft in the 18th century although living in London and elsewhere.
The earliest information about the Sayers of Croft is derived from the will of Cuthbert Sayer of Croft (51), a priest who died in 1558. Several of his relations are named therein, showing that the family was already fairly numerous. One of his nephews or a great-nephew, may be assumed to be the George Sayer de Jolby who was buried at Croft in 1610 and whose will (52) refers to two sons, Rowland and Thomas. The latter may be the Thomas Sayer of Yorkshire, gent., who was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1614/15 and died at his house in the Strand in 1624 (53). The executor of his will was his brother Rowland and two other brothers, George and Francis are also mentioned. There is a reference to lands in Yorkshire the profits of which were to be devoted to the maintenance and education of his sons, Thomas, George and Rowland. These names, even if other evidence is lacking, strongly suggest a close connection with the Sayers of Croft. The will directs that the three boys should be sent to one of the universities or trained for some suitable profession.
Thomas' brother Rowland senior, is known to have had two sons, the younger of whom was baptized at Croft in 1624 and, as George Sayer of Low Jolby, became sufficiently important in the parish to be buried within the chancel of Croft church when he died in 1671. There is now no sign of his tomb for the chancel was restored and panelled early in the present century. From George's will (54) we learn that he and his wife Mary had ten sons: Rowland, Henry, Charles, Thomas, George, William, Ralph, John, Francis and Mark. The eldest, Rowland, inherited land at Neasham, Co. Durham, which his father had bought from Lawrence Sayer of Worsall, and other land there bought from Noah Pilkington was left in trust for the nine younger boys. There is also reference to land at Neasham bought from Mr. Henry Hutton. Mary Sayer was executrix of her husband's will and received the property at Croft, with remainder to her son Charles.
Mary died in 1681 and her will (55) disposes of all the interest she had in land at Neasham known as Brown Field Farm, formerly owned by her father. This was to be sold in order to provide for her three youngest sons, John, Francis, and Mark.
The eldest brother, Rowland, was born in 1649. He went to school at Brignall, not far from Barnard Castle and entering S. John's College Cambridge in 1667 took his B.A. degree in 1671. He and his wife Grace, marrying about 1672, had six children, the first being baptized at Croft and the others at Hurworth near Neasham. One of their daughters, Grace, was buried at Stockton in 1693 aged eleven. The only son to survive childhood was Rowland, born in 1679. The elder Rowland died in 1699 and administration of his estate was granted to his widow and his brother Ralph on 22 February (56). On the 13th of that month the registers of Richmond , Yorkshire, record the burial of Mr Rowland Sayer, physician, presumably the same man, unless we have a strange coincidence.
Henry Sayer, the second of George and Mary's sons, was born in 1651 and is believed to have settled in Stockton. Details of his family and of his son's descendants are given in a later section headed, The Sayers of Middlesex.
The third brother Charles remained at Low Jolby, having inherited the land there on his mother's death. The burial of his servant George Roper took place at Croft in 1695 and he himself died there in the following year – apparently unmarried.
It is uncertain which of the brothers should take fourth place but the fifth was in all likelihood George, who was born in 1657. He and his family must be dealt with at some length and before doing so it may be well to dispose of the remaining brothers.
Of the lives of William, Thomas and John, nothing is known and Francis who died in 1721 left no male heir. (57) The marriage of Ralph Sayer, gent., of Jolby took place at Manfield in 1704. His bride was Ann Turner and their sons Thomas and Ralph were baptized at Croft. In 1723 we find that Thomas son of Ralph Sayer of Croft, haberdasher was apprenticed to Robert Hunter, Citizen and clothworker for £63. (58) Thomas' sister Mary was apprenticed in the following year to Sarah Wilkins of St. Giles-in-the-Field, a child's coatmaker, for £30.
Mark Sayer, the youngest of the brothers was born in 1669 and in 1723 was described as a proctor of Doctor's Commons. He had property at Doddington and Newnham in Kent which was inherited by his eldest son Mark. (59) The second son, Francis was apprenticed to George Vincent citizen and soapmaker for a consideration of £200. Charles, the third son, was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1726, became a bencher in 1763 and Treasurer in 1773. He was appointed Council to the East India Company and was a Director of the South Sea Company. His will proved in 1780 (60), mentions his "only and legitimate daughter Charlotte Meinhardt," that is, his adopted daughter. He had been her guardian since she was seven and made her his sole executrix and residuary legatee. Judging by the wording of his will, he had a very low opinion of the matrimonial state, for he advises Charlotte never to marry.
Returning now to George Sayer, the fifth of the ten brothers: while still in his twenties he came to London and by 1684 was a proctor, or attorney, of Doctors' Commons. (61) This was the College of ecclesiastical and civil lawyers. From Elizabethan times onward its main buildings with their garden were on the south side of Knightrider Street. The proctors' offices adjoined the Deanery, occupying the site in Carter Lane where the Cathedral Choir School stood later. The College comprised five courts: The Court of Arches, the High Court of Admiralty, the Prerogative Court, the Court of Faculties and Dispensations and the Consistory Court of the Bishop of London. It was dissolved in 1857 and most of its functions were thenceforward exercised by the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice.
From George Sayer's will proved in 1727, (62) we learn that he lived in Islington. He had property in the manors of Canonbury and Barnsbury, in Poplar and elsewhere in Middlesex and also in Fetter Lane and Shoe Lane. As well as charitable bequests to Islington, he left £5 to the poor of Croft and the same to those of St. Gregory's parish, by St. Paul's. Six proctors of the Court of Arches were pall bearers when he was buried at St. Mary's, Islington.
The name of George Sayer's bride was Mary Exton and her ancestry is not without interest. Her father, Everard Exton, was Richmond Herald and a proctor of the Court of Arches. His will (63) refers to three portraits – of himself, his wife, and his daughter – painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller. They were inherited by George and Mary Sayer and then, as we shall see, by two of their sons successively. Unfortunately the Witt Library of the Courtauld Institute of Art can throw no light on the later history of the portraits.
Mary's uncle, Sir Thomas Exton, LL.D., became a judge of the Admiralty Court and her grandfather, John Exton LL.D., was the author of "Maritime Dicaeologie or Sea Jurisdiction of England." (64) He too was an Admiralty Judge, first appointed in 1649 and again after the Restoration when the Duke of York confirmed him in that office. Pepys, in his diary, 17 March 1662/3, recounts how Dr. Exton presided over two Admiralty Court cases held in part of the old church of St. Maragret, Southwark. He finds Dr. Exton's address somewhat dull "though he seems to intend it to be very rhetoricall" and observes that the court is chiefly concerned with "how to proceed with the most solemnity and spend time." The cases were nevertheless settled to Pepys' satisfaction.
The wife of Dr. John Exton was Thomasine the daughter of Ralph Brooke. (65) This man – Mary's great-grandfather – was by all accounts a most disagreeable character. The son of Jeffrey Brooke a shoemaker of Wigan, by 1580 at the age of twenty-seven he had become Rouge Croix Pursuivant, but attained no higher rank than York Herald in 1593. The Dictionary of National Biography says that he was a painstaking and accurate genealogist but of a jealous and grasping nature and much disliked by his fellow Officers at the Heralds' College. He was highly incensed by the appointment of Camden the antiquary as Clarencieux King of Arms and quarrelled violently with him.
His will (66) - a most revealing document – opens with the following remarkable passage: "I give and bequeath my sorrowful soule to God allmighty . . . . my sinnes I bequeath likewise to Sathan the enemy of all mankind by whose temptacion I have been greatly seduced," – he blames "the old Seducer" for everything. Disposing of his worldly goods ("wch. I have painfully gotten") he refers acidly to his unkind wife and undutiful son and leaves a black gown or £4 to Henry Mason, provided he attends the funeral. In a slightly more genial spirit he gives his "loving fellows the Officers of Armes 5 markes to pay for a dinner or supper when they shall meet together." Concluding with the words, "So bidding this transitory world farewell . . ." He signs his name – and lives another six years.
The career of Dr. Exton Sayer, the eldest of George Sayer's three sons, although comparatively short, was exceedingly varied. (67) He was a Fellow of Trinity Hall Cambridge, became a Doctor of Law in 1718 and in the same year was appointed an advocate of Doctor's Commons. An official of the Archdeaconry of Canterbury in 1723, he then became Vicar General of the Bishop of Durham whose daughter, Catherine Talbot, he married in 1724. (68) He was Commissary of Surrey and M. P. for Helston, Cornwall in 1725 and when he died six years later he was representing Totnes. According to his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine, he was also His Majesty's Surveyor General of Lands, Deputy Chancellor of Winchester and Commissary of Essex. The notice continues: "As he was reading a Paper on Horseback, the Reins laid down, his Horse startled or run away, and threw him; after which he lingered some Days."
His will (69) expressed a wish that he should be buried on the north side of the churchyard at Witham, Essex, one of the parishes of his brother George, but when he died in 1731, as Spiritual Chancellor of Durham he was buried in that Cathedral. It was to his brother George that he bequeathed the family pictures, doubtless those by Kneller already mentioned.
Exton Sayer left no children. Apart from his parents and brother the only relative mentioned in his will are Anne the widow of his uncle Ralph Sayer and her children; a sister, Dame Elizabeth Crisp; and two cousins, Frances Sayer and Christopher Wensley of Darlington. There is also a reference to his wife's brother Charles Talbot, who was later to become Lord Chancellor.
Exton died in possession of five or six estates or farms in the neighbourhood of Croft and Darlington and also had property at Thornton-le-Beans and a house in York. His interests in the East India Company and in four collieries in Co. Durham are mentioned. (70) A small property at Bishops Stortford leased from the Bishop of London was left to the Grammar School there to provide tuition in writing and arithmetic for six poor boys.
Everard was born in 1693, (71) about three years after his brother Exton, and married Esther Marriott, a widow, when he was forty-seven. He lived in the parish of St. Benet, Paul's Wharf and dying without issue in 1745 was buried with his father and his sister Mary at Islington where he had been baptized. In his will (72) he is described as one of the Procurators General of the Arches Court of Canterbury. He left £10 to the poor of the parish of Croft in Yorkshire, "the native shire of my ancestors" and among other beneficiaries under the will were Frances Sayer living in Durham and "Aunt Sayer" living in a house belonging to Everard in Croft. He had disposed of some other property at Croft a few years previously but when he died owned lands and tenements in Canonbury and Barnsbury and in Shoe Lane, Fleet Street. His mother, Mary Sayer, was still living in Islington in 1744 and received an annuity of £20 under his will. Esther his widow lived until 1771 when her son James Marriott LL.D. (later knighted) was granted administration of her estate.
The youngest of the three brothers, the Rev. Dr. George Sayer, was an M.A. of Oriel College in 1719 and became a Doctor of Divinity in 1735. (73) He was chaplain to Bishop Talbot of Durham, Vicar of Witham, Essex, in 1722 and Rector of Easington in the Archdeaconry of Durham in 1730. In 1741 he was collated to the Rectory of Bocking, Essex, and appointed Commissary of that Deanery. He retained the livings of Witham and Bocking until his death. He had been installed as a Prebend of the Tenth Stall at Durham Cathedral in 1725 and on becoming Archdeacon in 1730 refused to resign the stall until Bishop Chandler, Talbot's successor, appealed to the Crown. Hutchinson in his "History of Durham" states that grievous charges were brought by Mr. Spearman in his enquiry against both George Sayer and his brother Exton for their "violent exertions as regarded the Bishop's rights."
About 1735 Dr. George bought an estate in his parish of Witham from John Bennett, Esq., Master in Chancery, (74) and in 1739 he married Martha one of the four daughters of Archbishop Potter of Canterbury, (75) all of whom, incidentally, married clergymen.
He was in some capacity concerned with the administration of Berkhamsted School. (76) This was when the school was going through a period of acute difficulty; it had no more than five boys, the Master and the Usher were at daggers drawn and the school itself in Chancery. We find Dr. Sayer writing to the Warden in 1744 to say that the Lord Chancellor had declared the School Visitor to be negligent.
On three occasions after 1748 Dr. George Sayer was a party to deeds conveying lands at Stapleton, Halnaby, Croft and Jolby to various buyers. (77) In two of these transactions he was associated with his cousin Charles Sayer of the Inner Temple. One may infer that he was becoming pressed for money, for referring again to Hutchinson's "History of Durham" we see that he retired to Brussels "on account of his embarrassed circumstances." He died in that city in 1761 and administration of his estate was at length granted in 1766 to Joseph Eyre Esq., his principal creditor. (78) He left no will.
In 1768 his only child Elizabeth became the wife of the Hon. Raby Vane, (78a) a great-grandson of Charles II and Barbara Villiers, who died the following year. She had inherited the manor of Barnsbury, Islington and as the Hon. Elizabeth Vane, widow, surrendered it to Dr. William Pitcairn in 1772. (78b) She died childless in June 1789.
The use of the family arms by the Sayers of Croft has already been referred to. They can be seen on some plates of Chinese workmanship , probably dating from the middle of the 18th century. The arms are : Quarterly, 1 and 4, Gules a chevron between seapies argent with a chief ermine for SAYER; 2, gules a cross between twelve croscroslets fitchy or for EXTON; 3, or a cross engrailed per pale gules and sable, on a chief gules a lion passant gardant or for BROOKS. It seems that at the relevant date only Dr George Sayer could have had any sort of claim to this assemblage of Quarterings and the plates were probably made to his order. A century or so later they doubtless came on to the market and were seen by Edward Sayer of the London Branch who, attracted by the familiar arms in the Sayer quarters, promptly bought the plates. They are now in the possession of various of his descendants.