The History of Puttenham – A Savage Review

This is a review of a book that was published 85 years ago and has almost certainly never been reviewed before. It was written by a man who was a leading character in Long Marston during World War II and the years before and after. He was the Headmaster of Long Marston School, Gordon Savage.

Described in a recent interview with Don Winfield as ‘Savage by name, savage by nature’ though Don’s views may have been influenced by the beatings he took during his childhood years. But the other side of Gordon Savage was shown by the memories of others who recall him tending to injured children after the bomb fell on the school in 1941.

To download the book in PDF format, please click below (12MB)

The History of Puttenham

But the book I am about to describe shows that Gordon Savage also had talent as a researcher and writer. In 1937 he published ‘A History of Puttenham’ and it was clearly a joint effort between the Headmaster, his pupils and the community; at the front is the acknowledgement that it was ‘printed and bound by the senior boys and girls’. There are also thanks to the famous Reverend Anthony for his help with research and to one of the ever present Chapman family – ‘Miss E Chapman – ‘for verification and information’. There is no comment on why Savage chose Puttenham rather than Long Marston for his project though our research has shown that the two villages have always been closely linked, particularly through Church activities.

It is impossible to comment on the book’s external appearance and presentation because all we have is a faded copy which was unearthed when we began to research the history of Manor Farm in Puttenham. So the emphasis will be on the content, which is generally impressive.

It is encouraging that the content broadly matches the research we have carried out recently and the rather more comprehensive and professionally produced book on the History of Puttenham as published by Margaret Vincent in 1987 (also to be reviewed for the website). The book starts with the date which is generally agreed to be the first recorded mention of Puttenham in 673AD when Hertfordshire was divided into ‘Hundreds’ and Puttenham was stated to be part of the ‘Dacorum Hundred’. But it only in the second half of the 11th Century, after the Norman invasion, that we begin to get more detail about ownership and life in the villages of the time. We also find out that there was yet one more different spelling of Puttenham that we had not seen previously; this book adds ‘Puttanho’ to the variations we knew about, ie, Puteham, Puttnam and Puttingham.

The ownership of Puttenham around that time is well known and reflects the politics of those days. After the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror gave the Manor of Puttenham to his half-brother, Odo the Bishop of Bayeux. This continued until the brothers fell out and, while Odo suffered ‘perpetual imprisonment, Puttenham was handed to the Earl of Leicester following the Seige of Rochester in 1088.

It probably reflects the teacher in Savage that his book goes beyond the facts and describes the ‘softer’ side of the village’s history; what the village and life within it were really like in those days. It may be subjective but I found it provided valuable insight to support the other more factual content. The key features of Savage’s description of Puttenham in the 11th Century are:

  • The Roman Catholic Church and the Manor House, the centre of the village
  • Around this centre are numerous small cottages, likely to be one room each with a fire in the middle
  • Even the Manor House would only have two rooms
  • Everyone slept together on the floor, except the Lord’s family who would have their own separate room in the Manor
  • Everyone provided their own food and clothes
  • Diets excluded sugar, potatoes and tea
  • Beer was kept in the cellar

The book makes the interesting distinction – which I had not previously appreciated – between the Lordship of the Manor and the ownership/occupancy of the Manor House. The Lordship passed through various hands after the King took it back from the Earls of Leicester at the end of the 13th century. It was transferred back to the King (Philip of Spain) in 1556, before being attached to the Manor of Tring soon after. An interesting detail is that the King granted Lordship of the manor to Thomas Wale in 1305 for the service of ‘one knight’s fee and a pair of gilt spurs’.

The book does not make clear enough the relationship – in terms of money and status – between the Lord and those who owned and lived in the Manor House. During most of this time the house was occupied by various members of the Puttenham family until it was sold to the Duncombe family in 1552 for a rent paid in ‘malt, sheep or lamb’ (interesting difference here between this book and Margaret Vincent’s later history; Vincent suggested that it was only rented to the Duncombes and then sold to a John Saunders in 1560). There follows much more detail of ownership until the house was sold to the Earl of Bridgwater in 1810.

The book contains a number of interesting extracts from documents that show the impact on Puttenham of the 1812 Enclosure Acts, showing how it fixed the boundaries of the Parish and decided on the definition of roads and paths, with Commissioners appointed to enforce the new laws. The Earl of Bridgwater was one commissioner and inevitably another was a member of that ubiquitous family, one ‘John Chapman, Farrier of Puttenham’.

The author makes an interesting and insightful comparison between the Puttenham of 1811 and that of 1937 when the book was written. For instance the fact that there were many more houses in 1937 (35 compared to 27 in 1811) but the population was significantly less (109 compared to 153 in 1811). The explanation of course was the much lower occupancy per house as time went on, an average of 3 compared to 6 in the previous century.

The latter half of the book contains a great amount of detail regarding the Church, no doubt inspired by Reverend Anthony. Though interesting in places, there is a certain impression of ‘padding’, for example the detail of the inventory of goods and furniture in the Church in the year 1553, including ‘A vestment of white threde and ‘2 coppes of hiwte silke’ We are also informed that the Register of Marriages doubled up as a general note book and tells us of the dates when the first beans were carried on October 8th 1695 and the amount paid for a new mop (6d).

But, despite the padding and some areas where clearer explanations would have been helpful, this remains a remarkable work for a relative amateur carrying out his research and writing within the school environment. It is good to be able to make it more available to those who are interested.

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