Tudor and Stuart Stevenage

The Tudor period was a time of great change.  Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic church so that he could gain a divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon.  The monasteries were dissolved and large amounts of church property and land was sold, giving Henry VIII a ready source of cash.  The Manor and lands of Stevenage were granted by the King to the newly created Bishop of Westminster.  The manor of Shephall was sold to George Nodes in 1542 for £197.14s.8d.

Following Henry’s death, his son Edward VI ruled from 1547-1553 and granted the manor and lands of Stevenage to Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London in 1550.  Ridley was later burnt at the stake for his Protestant views when Edward’s sister Mary came to the throne in 1553.

To be a parish rector at this time was a dangerous occupation.  The Rector Thomas Alleyne was a particularly remarkable character.  Although a Protestant, he kept his post during Mary’s reign and his parishioners thought very highly of him.

Stevenage was becoming noted as a significant staging post on the Great North Road, with inns beginning to cater for travellers heading to and from London.  The Swan inn (now The Grange) is first recorded in 1530.  Under the reign of Elizabeth I, the economy recovered and life in Stevenage settled down.  Many travellers passed through on the Great North Road and it is believed that Charles I was led through Stevenage back to London under arrest by the Parliamentarian soldiers during the Civil War years.

Samuel Pepys records a journey through Stevenage in his diary of 5th August 1664 and again in 1667 when he stayed at the Swan Inn and played bowls on the green.  Charles Dickens also stayed at the Swan and another writer, Daniel Defoe, described his journey on the Great North Road as a ‘most frightful’ way.

It was frightful; a muddy track in desperate need of repair.  It was the responsibility of the local parish to maintain the stretch of the road that fell within its boundaries but in 1683, the inhabitants of Stevenage were taken to court for failing to repair a part of the road leading between Stevenage and Graveley.  It was also the haunt of highwaymen.  James Witney was executed for highway robbery at Newgate prison in 1693 and Dick Turpin is said to have escaped through a secret passage at the Roebuck inn to escape the local Justices of the Peace.

In 1712, Jane Wenham from Walkern village, was the last person to be accused of witchcraft in England.