Since the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 (Southrop Manor being one until then), the English population had lived quietly for fifty years. Although going to church was compulsory, people allowed each other to continue to follow their own faiths privately at home. This led to a simmering resentment amongst papists, and on November 5th 1605, fanatical papist conspirators attempted to blow up the House of Lords (the ‘Gunpowder Plot’) and everyone in it, including the new king. But the plot failed and led to a heavy purge of Catholic sympathisers and recusants the following year. It may be a coincidence or it may not, but there was suddenly much changing of hands of the Southrop Manor estate.
Sir Thomas Conway relinquished the lease (we presume he died and his wife moved away), and Sir Thomas’s effigy now lies alongside that of his wife in St. Peter's Church. There is some doubt as to the identity of the effigies as Sir Thomas’s armour oddly dates from about 1560. Why this should be is unknown: was his father a knight, and Sir Thomas wished to be similarly remembered? However, the helmet on the effigy matches that in the coat of arms so it is assumed to be Sir Thomas whose head rests in stone on top of it.
It is recorded that a Peter Bradshaw took the lease, followed by Sir Robert Cecil for a short time. As the son of Queen Elizabeth's principal minister and a protégé of Sir Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth's principal spymaster), Sir Robert was trained by them in spycraft as a matter of course. He served as a minister under both Elizabeth I and James I. The lease then passed to Sir Thomas Rowe who again held it for a very short time. Rowe was born in 1581 and matriculated at Magdalen College Oxford aged 12. He was a bright young diplomat, a man of obvious learning and was elected MP for Cirencester in 1621. He must have been about 26 when he acquired, then quickly sold the Southrop estate.
Eventually the estate was bought in 1608 by Sir Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham, of Merrifield in Somerset. They appear to have acquired Southrop as an investment as they did not actually live here. Oddly, Wadham and his wife were also suspected of being Papist recusants, but in 1608 the privy council ordered a stay of proceedings against them. On 20 October 1609, aged seventy-seven, Sir Nicholas died at Merrifield. In his will he left the huge sum of £500 for his funeral expenses and directed his body be buried "in myne ile at Ilminster where myne auncestors lye interred". His dying wish was that a college be founded at Oxford in his name, and so in 1610 Dorothy founded Wadham College, thereby fulfilling her husband's will. When Dorothy died in 1617, she left the entire Southrop estate to the newly established college. For more than 300 years, it then remained in Wadham’s ownership, but held under a series of leases.
There are records of 'alehouse keepers' in Southrop dating back to 1606. One appears to have been a tenant in the building then called the Bakehouse and which in 1843 was renamed The Swan (valued at £445).
Main Image: Sir Thomas Conway's tomb, St Peter's Church, Southrop
This is the fourth of six installments of Jerry's history of Southrop, the manor, the farm and its buildings.
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