Times Remembered – The Hammonds
It would be churlish to leave the 17th Century without mention of a family of lengthy lineage which used their wealth for the benefaction of Pirton’s poor.
The Hammonds were yeoman stock. In 1255 William Hamunde held a virgate of land in Shillington, of the Abbey of Ramsey some three miles away, while John Hamunde held half a virgate in Pegsdon, of the same Abbey.
In Pirton there were several families of Hammonds during the second half of the 16th Century but one member who stands out prominently was the philanthropist John Hammond. His Will of 1641 shows him to have been a man of much substance. The farmhouse in Burge End Lane with its quality interior decoration and the 17th Century dovecote are attributable to him. His wealth is further proved by the fact that in 1623 he was called upon to contribute £15 towards a loan for King James 1 whilst most of the other Hertfordshire gentlemen only contributed £10.
In his Will John Hammond bequeathed two cottages in the High Street for the use of the poor for ever. The present buildings replaced the pair that fell into disrepair. Another of his benefactions was the gift of £100 for investment in land, the interest from which was to be applied for apprenticing poor children of the parish. In 1652 his executors purchased 8 acres of land in Pirton Field from Thomas Spicer, alias Holder. As a result of the later Enclosures Act it was exchanged for 6 ¼ acres at Punch’s Cross, the annual rent being applied in accordance with Hammond’s Will.
The house in Burge End Lane which John Hammond inhabited is of late 16th Century date, timber framed with brick noggin and containing many interesting architectural features, inside and out. Notable are the inglenook fireplace with copper canopy, bearing a Queen Anne brass plate, the wide oak beam floors and oak panelling and the kitchen fireplace containing the original pot crane.
From a survey carried out in the first quarter of the 20th Century we gather that the oldest part of the site on which the house stands is to the north of the present building and was probably a British homestead site with moat and fishponds. In later but still pre-Norman times Pirton was the property of Stigand, Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, and to him can be conjecturally attributed the great alterations which Burge End underwent with the transformation of the site into one suitable for a prelate’s manor house. There is every indication that such a building did exist here in those days.
In order to attain the desired end an outer moat was dug enclosing some eighteen acres of ground. Through the centre of the enclosure ran a brook which supplied the moat with water: at the south end it was slightly diverted and at the north end, before it turned eastward and became part of the moat, it was divided into two branches. By this means a piece of land, roughly rectangular, was enclosed whereon the manor house was built. One branch of the stream flowed round the east side of the house into its former course, the other supplied the fishponds and passed into the same moat at the north-west corner of the house. The inner moat was formed round three sides of the house. The fish ponds were two in number and there was a third and most northerly pond, the origin and character of which is less apparent. With its outflow and the outer moat it enclosed a small triangular piece of ground. This island appears very inadequate for any building such as a gatehouse with drawbridge over the outer moat.
The Hammond family became extinct when in 1695 its last heiress Ann, the daughter of John and Helena married James Handscombe who thus became the tenant-in-chief of Hammonds Farm, the house that John built.