Linton in Pictures
A History of Linton
in Photographs
Available here


People often ask me why there is an estate in Linton called “Lonsdale”. Churchgoers have probably come across the name when the Lonsdale silver flagon, cup, paten and alms dishes are used during special communion services. In 1791 Mrs. Sarah Lonsdale, Lady of the Manor of Barham, presented the Revd. Edmund Fisher senior with these valuable silver communion vessels. Their total silver content weighed five pounds. The Churchwardens accounts record that they were cleaned by Fisher’s wife (she died in 1807) and daughter annually from 1791 until 1855 at a cost of 4/6d a time !

The story begins when 20 year old Sarah Disbrow, the daughter of Mary and the late William Disbrow gent, married the new young Lord of the Manor of Barham the 23 year old Robert Millicent. Robert was the youngest son of the late Squire John Millicent ( who died in 1716 ) and inherited the title in 1734 when his older brother John died unexpectedly. He was a resident fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and was said to have “dyed of drink.”

The Barham Estate was already heavily mortgaged and the young couple lived in London where Robert practised as an apothecary. He tried to raise funds for the Estate by excavating a huge area of Linton Heath between 1737 and 1740 in the hope of discovering coal. Robert was already in poor health and tragedy visited the young couple when their baby son John died of smallpox. Shortly after this Robert Millicent died in London on January 12th, 1740. He was the last of the male line of the Millicent family and was buried in Linton Church where there is a memorial plaque on the north wall erected by his widow.

She returned to Barham Hall where she resided with her mother, Mary Disbrow and her mother in law, Dorothy Millicent. The Estate was placed in the hands of Trustees and was over £2500 in debt, about a quarter of the total value of the Manor. The young widow was consoled by the Vicar of Linton, the 30 year old Christopher Lonsdale. He came from Durham and was educated at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. His first appointment was to Ellington near Brampton which was part of the Peterhouse endowments. He was only there for one year before resigning and securing the Linton living. As vicar from 1741 to 1746 he had ample opportunity to form a close relationship with the young widow. The scandalous behaviour of the brash young Lord of Great and Little Linton probably cemented the relationship. Robert King, the son of a common coachman, inherited the Linton Estates of Thomas Sclater Bacon in 1736 as a result of Bacon’s “close liaison” with Robert’s mother. Robert King and his younger brother were to gamble away their £100,000 plus inheritance within the next twenty years and the Barham Estates seemed to offer the unscrupulous Robert an opportunity for exploitation, a target too tempting to miss.

Robert King deliberately manipulated the Tithe apportionment for Linton to favour his own Estate and disadvantage Sarah Millicent’s. The young defenceless widow and her trustees seemed an easy target. Unfortunately for Robert King the innocent widow had two staunch defenders, the vicar Christopher Lonsdale and Thomas Pocklington of Chelmsford, her attorney and chief trustee.

I discovered details of a Tithe court session held at the Bull Inn in Linton in 1745 where Robert King revealed his true nature. He lost his temper and shouted, “I will govern Linton as I please and will not be talked to by a little pitiful petty ffogging attorney.” He went on to challenge Pocklington to a fight with sword and pistol and threatened to kick him. Robert King had to be physically restrained when he jumped from his chair and “Swore he would pull the attorney by the nose.” Christopher was a frequent visitor to Barham Hall and regularly corresponded with Sarah Millicent, she was very dependent on his advice and support. At the Court of King’s Bench in 1747, Robert King was severely censured and the Millicent Estates were saved.

Sarah Millicent then raised £7,200 from her family South Sea shares to re-purchase the heavily mortaged Estate. By 1749 she had negotiated a comparatively manageable mortgage of £1800 and was financially secure. Now she was free to marry Christopher Lonsdale. He derived an income as rector of Stathern in Leicestershire (present day Rutland ). He was rector here from 1745 until his death in 1783, the living being in the gift of Peterhouse College. He was 41 years of age in 1751 when he married 36 year old Sarah Millicent. They resided at Barham Hall, a Tudor mansion erected in the 1560’s alongside the farmhouse building used by the main tenant farmers of Great Barham. William Cole the antiquarian became a close friend of Christopher Lonsdale and was a frequent guest at Barham Hall. The Lonsdale name was thereafter associated with Barham Manor until Sarah’s death in 1807. All her lands then passed to Pembroke College, Cambridge.

The newly married couple had no children and seem to have been devoted to one another. Sarah Lonsdale was very wary about money after her early experiences and so she kept detailed accounts of all her income and expenditure from 1741 until her death in 1807. These unique ledgers are lodged in the Pembroke College archives, but I have copies of all the documents. Some of the fascinating entries I found are : 5/6d for a pair of black everlasting shoes, 49/- for stays, 47/- for half a lottery ticket and 4/- for four packs of Henry the Eighth playing cards.

She kept a close watch on her spending and this care is demonstrated by her purchase for in March, 1756 of a book entitled “ One Hundred Answers to all Expenses.” She paid £1 for the book. An insight into the couples health problems , all the doctor’s bills were kept, can be gained from a sheet inserted into one of the books by Christopher Lonsdale. He had torn out a newspaper advert for Dr. Radcliffe’s lozenges for haemorrhoids because they had been reduced from 1/- to 6d. A cure was offered in three to four days if one was lozenge was dissolved in red wine and water and taken overnight. Robert Chalk of present number one Mill Lane ran a carrier service to London and brought the Lonsdales specialist produce from the capital. They obviously indulged themselves a little bit. Davison and Newman of Fenchurch Street sent them tea and coffee at 5/- a pound, currants and raisons for 8d lb, sugar at 9d lb, mustard 20d per pound and peaches at 1/6d each.

In the 1770’s the couple were once again threatened by the aggressive acquisitions of the new Lord of Linton, Bishop Benjamin Keene of Ely. He purchased the bankrupt Estate of the King family from Lord Montfort of Horseheath in 1772 and immediately queried the Lonsdale boundaries and their fishing rights in the River Granta. He drew up new maps of the Linton Estate in 1779 and wanted to enclose the open fields and abolish the strip system of farming. The Lonsdales opposed his suggestions and asserted their territorial rights by organising the Walking of the Barham Bounds. Their tenants walked the Bounds in 1774 and 1786 to establish the Lonsdale’s tenure.

There seems to be little doubt that the couple’s decision to leave their lands to Pembroke College was heavily influenced by this new threat. In his Will of October, 1783 Christopher Lonsdale left his Estate to his wife during her lifetime and then to Pembroke College. Sarah Lonsdale assigned her Estate in a similar manner. Peterhouse College only received £500 since Lonsdale had fallen out with his old College for some unknown reason. Pembroke College benefited because of its close links to Linton as Rectors from 1450 and because of the couple’s admiration for William Pitt the Elder and William Pitt the Younger, both scholars of Pembroke College. To ensure that the Estate lands would not be disputed by the Keenes, Sarah engaged Charles Wedge to draw up a new map of the Barham Estate in 1785. This was closely based on the original Millicent Map of 1600.

After her husband’s death in 1783 she added an inscription for Christopher Lonsdale to her first husband’s memorial on the north wall of the Church, close to the Millicent Chapel. She lived on at Barham Hall with her close lady companions for a further 24 years and devoted her time to collecting the portraits of her ancestors and to her embroidery. When the historian and traveller Lysons visited her in 1806 he noted, “ Mrs. Lonsdale was very civil to me and gave me cake, the whole house was filled with her needlework. There were numerous portraits in the house, many of them of her own family.”

Sarah Lonsdale died on February 15th, 1807 aged 91 years and the Estate passed to Pembroke College. The income was divided into three equal parts - one third each to the Master, the Fellows and the College in general. This distribution was later challenged in the courts and all the income was assigned to general College funds. Pembroke was delighted with the legacy since the Barham Estate provided 10% of the College income throughout the 19th century. In 1810 the College paid £88 to their stonemason to inscribe a memorial stone placed in the Millicent Chapel close to the present organ. It reads:

Sacred to the memory of Sarah Lonsdale
Who departed this life aged XC1 years
She was first married to Robert Millicent Esq. Lord of the Manor of Barham
And afterwards to Christopher Lonsdale clerk M.A. Whom she also survived
Having in her lifetime devoted herself to acts of religion and charity. She
Bequeathed her Estate of Barham Hall to the Master Fellows and Scholars
Of Pembroke Hall in the University of Cambridge by whom in testimony of
Their gratitude this monument was erected

Today the Barham Estate is still the College’s largest land holding. Mrs. Lonsdale’s furniture and possessions were auctioned off and all but one of the family portraits has disappeared. Barham Hall was assigned to the sole use of the Master and it fell into such neglect ,since it could not be sub-let under the terms of the Will, that the old Hall house was demolished in 1832. The present house, the tenant farmer’s residence was rebuilt in 1836 although there are traces of earlier structures within the walls. The College still possesses forty items of Lonsdale silver and the coats of arms of the Millicents, the Disbrows and the Lonsdales can be located in the present College Hall and the Wren Chapel. Each year the Master and Fellows celebrate their inheritance with a lavish dinner called the Barham Feast.