1927: The early History of the Coverts of Slaugham Place is revealed

West Sussex County Times, Saturday 5 November 1927


The Coverts of Slaugham Place


The following is a paper read by Miss E. Kensett on the occasion of the Horsham Museum Society outing on October 13:


The family are supposed to be of northern origin and the heralds start with the name of Sir Bartholomew of Chaldon who they say came over with William the Conqueror, and his immediate descendants, William and Richard held the Manor of “Bradbridge” (Broadbridge) near Horsham, and his grandsons seem to have started the family custom of marrying heiresses. About 1472 William Covert seems to have sold the old family Manor of Chaldon and to have purchased those of Slaugham and Twineham; he married Ann, daughter of Sir John Fleming, and through her acquired a share in the Manor and the advowson of Sutton; he died in 1494, directing that he should be buried in the church of Saint Mary of Slaugham and leaving for the fabric of the church 40s.


He continues: “I will that three trentalls (thirty) masses be said and done for me in three several houses of religion, one in a house of monks, another of cannons, another of friars, every house to have 30s; a virtuous priest graduate doctor to sing for my soul in Slaugham Church for five years, to have £8 yearly; if no such can be gotten for that money then another virtuous priest and well understanding to have 10 marcs (£6.13s 4d) for the said term. Every poor clerk or priest of good learning living within 5 miles of Slaugham, disposed to go to the University of Oxford and Cambridge to learn, to have 6s 8d towards his school; and every poor maiden lacking friends, abiding within the same distance to have 6s 8d towards her marriage."

Slaugham Church c1920

His son John, born in 1472, married the only daughter of Sir John Pelham and afterwards Alice Lewknor. A brass in his memory is upon the wall of Slaugham Church; it formally was on the floor and is somewhat worn in consequence. It depicts him in full armour, under a canopy; one shield of four only is left, that of the Covert family, and beneath the figure is a Latin inscription, asking the prayers of beholders for his soul, which he commends to God, its owner. His will, proved 1503, desires that he should be buried in the chancel of the Church of Slaugham, and leaves "to moder (cathedral) church XXs, to the high altar of Slaugham XVs, to the curate of the same Vs, to the parson of Slaugham XVIIIs IVd which I ought (owed?) to the old parson, to the church wardens 10s which I owe to them for the use of the church… every one of the servants in my house to have Vs above their wages to pray for my fathers sowle and mine…. my executors to procure two honest prestys to sing for my fathers soul and mine for the space of three years…. To Anne, my mother, all movabil goods within my house, except I will to Isabel my wife, my second best bedd and all that belongs to the same, the apparell of the second best chamber, a salt of silver-gilt with the cover, 400 marcs to go to my daughters, Anne, Elizabeth and Dorothy – if they are ruled in marriage by their mother and cousin, if not then 200 marcs, provided they be married to men of 100 marcs in the land, or have virtue and cunning worth 100 marcs.”


One cannot help wondering a little, how and by whom the “vertue and cunning” are to be assessed! If one of the daughters be disobedient, she is to have only 200 marcs, if all be unruly the 600 spare marcs are to be expended in meritorious works for the souls of his father, himself and his friends. About these he seems to have been rather anxious, as in addition to the before-named bequests he leaves about £50 to the use of his mother, "She to find St John Pulley, my chaplain to synge for my Fader soul and mine in the church of Slaugham for V years paying him 10 marcs a year.”


He also asks Isabel, his wife, to give the Chauntre of the Rever (River, near Bignor?) to the parson of Slaugham; her share of that manor passing at her death to his little daughters (about whose marriage he was so anxious, Anne aged 6, Elizabeth 3 and Dorothy 2 years. Twenty three manors are said to have belonged to him; Saddam is valued at 20 marcs.


This "Cosin" Richard Covert succeeded to his Estates in Ashington, Slaugham and Sullington et cetera. He was the son of Thomas Covert, who married Elizabeth, daughter of William Sidney, of Cranleigh, ancestor of the Sidneys of Penshurst. Thomas Covert was, I think, buried under the altar in Horsham church; a stone in the middle aisle board the inscription: "pray for the souls of Thomas Covert and Elizabeth his wife," but has now disappeared. He died in 1495.


Richard Covert’s brass is in Slaugham Church with three of his four wives, two of whom are widows; all were apparently well-connected and added to the family property; the second was a Nevyle, the third and Ascheburnham, and by Blanche the fourth, he had two sons, John and George and one daughter. His will directs his "body to be buried in the Chauncel of Slaugham Church as soon as it is dead, and may be conveniently conveyed to the place where it shall be buried without great ceremonies and solemnities other than belongs to a good and true Christian man. To the mother church IIIs, IV, to the passing of Slaugham XXs. My wife Blanch and my children that be in my house, and all my family shall be apparelled in blake and my servants shall take blake for their livery, or else tarry in my house till Christmas when I usually give my liveries: to Jane, daughter of John Covert ... 300 marcs upon this condition that the said Jane be ruled in marriage by the admonition, assent and consent of Sir William Shelley, knight, Richard Bellingham, Esquire, William Henley, Esquire, Blanch my wife, or three of them of which my wife shall be one.… My well beloved wife to be my sole executor." His will is dated 1546.


His widow, Blanch Covert, desires to "be buried in the chauncell of the parish of Twyneham, if my son John and the parson of Twyneham so grant it." She leaves "to my son John Covert of Slaugham two gilded salts without cover, pair of silver spones with lyons on the end, and one spone without a lyon… The brewing furnace of copper with all the vessels thereto belonging….. To my grand daughter Jane, Lady Fleming, a spone of gold, to my sister Mary Herbert a bed with curtains et cetera”. The brass of the granddaughter Jane, about whose marriage Richard Covert was so anxious, is near that of her grandfather and records that she was first wife to St Francis Fleming, and after to Sir John Fettiplace, Knighte.


The next owner of Slaugham Place was Richard's eldest son John; he married Elizabeth Cooke of Rustington, who brought a share of that manor as her dowry. He was M. P. For Shoreham and for the County of Sussex; ?High Sheriff and patron of Slaugham Church. He had two children by his wife, Richard and William; and eight illegitimate sons and daughters, for whom he makes some provision in his will, on condition that they have not sinned after the manner of their father. He afterwards married their mother, whose will was proved in 1583. She ‘desires to be buried at Slaugham by her husband and that £4 should be distributed to the poor at her funeral’. John’s son Richard was the next heir. He married first - Ann, daughter of Sir Walter Henley, who brought him the Manor of Eberney, near Romney.


His monument in Slaugham Church is a fine piece of Renaissance work and measures 11 feet by 11. He had seven sons and seven daughters, the first kneel behind him on the monument, including the eldest, who died in childhood; the daughters kneel behind the wife; each of their initials are above them. The second wife was Cecily Bowes, whose father, a goldsmith, left her a ring, "with two bowes bent, the deaths head between them and the scripture ‘remember thine end’”.


Her grandfather was Lord Mayor of London in 1548. Her youngest daughter Marjorie was one of the wives of Ninian Chalinor of Homestead, partner with Richard Covert in the Slaugham ironworks. Richard's third wife was Mary, daughter of Sir Nicholas Heron, who survived him. She is not mentioned on the monument which was designed and partly worked and paid for before his death, which occurred in 1579. Its cost was £30.


The ruins of Slaugham Place c1900

Next comes Walter, the son of Richard by his first wife. He was the greatest of the Coverts of Slaugham, and added to his already large estates a share of the Manor of Cuckfield. He rebuilt, on a magnificent scale, the mansion at Slaugham, a copy of the plan of which with his portrait is contained in volume 47 of the S. A. Collections. He represented the county in 1586, 1614-25-26, and Petersfield in 1592. He was Father of the House for 40 years, was knighted in 1591 and died at the ripe age of 88 in 1631. He was twice married, but had no children, and his niece Anne was his heiress. She married a Sir Walter Covert, of Maidstone, who seems to have been somewhat of a spendthrift. He was at the Court of James I, who writes to his uncle, at Slaugham Place, modestly asking him to pay his nephew’s debts amounting to over £1,000, and increase his allowance, so that he can attend on his Majesty as he formerly did.


Armorial stamp of Sir Walter Covert (British Armorial Bindings)

Sir Walter (senior) expresses his willingness to do this and increases his allowance from 6 score to 8 score pounds; he will pay his debts and says he is also giving £40 to the bringing up of his young kinsman's son. He speaks of the newly erected chapel adjoining Slaugham Church (1631), which has since been thrown into the main building.


The next owner we can trace seems to have been another John Covert, who came into the house "gained possession" of it "at which tyme there was nobody in the house but two men and one woman and a girle, whereupon these four went out of the house and left John Covert in possession.” As he was born in 1620 and died in 1679 he lived through the troubled times of the civil wars; he got in trouble for his loyalty and in 1644 was a prisoner in Warwick castle and was placed on the"List of delinquents"; he was fined £500 which was afterwards reduced to £300. Waller’s troops are said to have destroyed his ironworks in Saint Leonards Forest.


His father, Canon Cooper tells us, had leased Tilgate furnace to Sir W. Burrell and at a memorial Court held at Crawley in 1669, he gave a lease to Leonard Gale, of a croft of land taken from the Lord’s Waste, at a Lovell (Lowfield) Heath. At the restoration he was created a baronet and was M. P. For Horsham in 1661.


In 1673 one Humphrey Covert, of Horsham, a person of no settled occupation, under a pretended deed of entail, tried to disturb his possession, but failed. He married Isabel Warmestry, widow of a Gloucestershire poet, and had six children, three of whom died young; his first child, Anne, inherited his Slaugham property and married James Morton, whose father, Sir William Morton, fought for the King until he was imprisoned in the Tower; he had previously been called to the bar and is buried in the Temple Church.


James was admitted to the Inner Temple at the age of 15; he was knighted in 1671 and 10 years later was M. P. For Steyning. He was one of the six sturdy Sussex magistrates who refused (1688) to consent to the abrogation of the Test Statutes. He held court of Manor of Slaugham in 1681 and 1695, and, being one of the landlords of Matthew Caffyn of Horsham, procured his release from jail after one of his imprisonments.


He died in 1696.


His widow Anne married again, and in 1755 sold her manor and Estates to Thomas Sergison of Cuckfield. The family have never resided at Slaugham Place, and a drawing in the Bodleian library shows it was falling into decay in 1787. The whole of its contents are said to have disappeared. The fine staircase which forms part of the municipal buildings at Lewes (formally the Star Inn), came from there, and also the stones of which the Friends Meeting House at Ifield was built. Tradition says that in its days of glory 50 servants came to church and left enough at home to cook the dinner; that they had their own fireplace at church, and just before the sermon, the butler would start the fire. Only ruins are now left of this, one of the finest of Sussex mansions.

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