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Barkham History

When Barkham - A History was published in 2000, no records were thought to survive which showed when Barkham Square was built, or by whom. The minutes of the 1751 manorial court (Court Baron) merely record the sale of "a certain freehold messuage called the Square" by Charles Gery, gentleman, to the Rev.d Witting Colton since the previous Court Baron in 1738, when there was no mention of the property in the manorial survey conducted at the same time. 

 Since the history was published, more light has been shed on the origins of Barkham Square following the discovery at the Public Record Office of the existence of law suits against Charles Gery in 1730 and 1750. Thanks to Gery's apparent propensity to get involved in litigation, we now have a clearer picture about his connection with Barkham and the building of the Square. The following supersedes page 90 of the history.

By 1716 some 600 acres in the parish, including Barkham Farm and the land which was subsequently to become the Barkham Square estate, had been sold by William Waterman I (who purchased the manor of Barkham in 1700) to John Davenport II of Chelsea.

In 1743 Charles Gery purchased 525 acres from John Davenport IV, and took-up residence at Barkham Farm, the moated homestead on the site of the mediæval manor adjacent to the parish church. To finance the purchase, Gery borrowed £600 from Elizabeth Lingard of Middlesex and £300 from William Hollingworth of Suffolk, secured by mortgages over Barkham Farm and 167 acres. Gery had been associated with Barkham since 1717 when he purchased the right to an annuity of £400 per annum which was secured on Barkham Farm and other property. Gery subsequently borrowed £2,000 on the security of the annuity, but failed to make the necessary payments, resulting in more litigation from 1732 to 1742.

In 1745 Gery borrowed a further £1,500 from Joseph Bishop, distiller, of Holborn, secured by a third charge over the same property. Bishop's mortgage was subsequently re-financed by John Peck, apothecary, of the City of London, in 1748, who advanced a further £500 to Gery.

It seems Barkham Square was built by Charles Gery at some time between the 1745 loan and October 1749, when he agreed to sell 96 acres on the west side of Barkham Street to the Rev.d Witting Colton (retaining Barkham Farm and 120 acres on the north and east sides).

Curiously, it seems (according to auction particulars nearly a century later) that the house was never finished. It is conjectured that Charles Gery found the Barkham Farm homestead too small and lacking in modern eighteenth century comforts and decided to build himself a new house on his land on the opposite side of Barkham Street, but ran into financial difficulties (notwithstanding the further advance of £500 in 1748) and was forced to sell the new house and half his remaining estate in Barkham.

The purchaser, Witting Colton, was a wealthy Georgian cleric, who was vicar of Reading St Giles from 1730 until his death in 1755, and also Chancellor of Salisbury Cathedral (1727-1755).

After Colton had agreed to purchase the 96 acre estate in October 1749 for £1,737. 4s., Gery disclosed that the land was mortgaged with the rest of his estate at Barkham to John Peck for £2,000, and asked Colton to lend him £600 to be secured on Barkham Farm, so he could redeem Peck's mortgage. Colton at first refused, but since his purchase of the Barkham Square estate would be frustrated if Peck's mortgage was not paid-off in full, he reluctantly agreed.

Despite the exchange of contracts, little progress was made in completing the sale, primarily because of a dispute between Gery and Peck as to whether Gery should also pay three month's interest to Peck because he had not given six months' notice of redemption. Eventually, Gery appeared to relent, and a completion meeting in Reading was arranged in April 1750, which Colton attended bringing £2,368. 4s. 6d. in cash. Unfortunately Gery once again baulked at paying three months' interest to Peck, and walked out of the meeting "in a passion" without having signed anything.

Witting Colton became increasingly exasperated, particularly since he had been in possession of Barkham Square, and managing the property, since Michaelmas 1749, and the cash he had withdrawn from his bankers was not earning any interest. Furthermore, the mortgagee John Peck was threatening to take legal action to eject Colton and his tenants.

Witting Colton therefore instituted proceedings in the Court of Chancery against both Gery and Peck, successfully seeking specific performance of his contract for sale with Gery and an injunction against Peck restraining him from taking any legal steps to eject Colton and his tenants. The subsequent purchase was completed by the trustees of Witting Colton's marriage settlement for his second wife, Mary Peck.

The first tenant of Barkham Square after Witting Colton's purchase was Henry Osman junior, a farmer from Shinfield, to whom Colton leased the "new built messuage" and about 100 acres in 1751 at £85 per annum for 21 years. The lease must have been surrendered, because in 1759 Witting Colton's widow, Mrs Mary Colton, leased the same land to William Campbell for 17 years at £95 per annum. Whether Campbell resided at the Square is not known, but it seems unlikely that he farmed the estate himself as in the lease he is described as an apothecary in London.

It seems that relations between Gery and Colton remained acrimonious. At the 1751 Court Baron Gery was "presented" (i.e. reported) for illegally enclosing land next to the churchyard, for removing stiles and foot bridges, and for "stopping up the ancient and customary footways leading from Barkham Square to the Church there and also from the Heath".

When Charles Gery died, without direct heirs, at Barkham in February 1755, he directed his executors to sell all his property for cash. Barkham Farm (120 acres) was offered for sale by auction, and was purchased by the Colton trustees for £2,100. Ownership of Barkham Square and Barkham Farm was therefore reunited after having been separated for five years, and was to remain in the same hands until 1913, when the Bear Wood estate was being broken up.

David French ©

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