Sudbury Manor, Harrow Middlesex

Sudbury Manor, Harrow Middlesex

A stone church with a tree and graveyard

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St Mary’s, Harrow-on-the-Hill

The hill at Harow is prominent over the landscape of London. In ancient times a small ‘Green Hill’ hamlet below the forested hill, developed in stature to become the London retreat of the Archbishops of Canterbury. It is reasonable to assume that, in later times, during the reign of the powerful Archbishop Simon of Sudbury, it would adopt the residential placename of Sudbury. It may also be intriguing to note that this lovely church had previously been inhabited by two of our most famous saintly clerics who met their maker in a most terrible and unjust way.

A church with many pews

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Harrow was first recorded in AD 767 when King Offa made a grant of land in the neighbourhood of the hill. The place name was written as Gum eninga hergae which means a clearing or sacred grove of the Gumne a local tribe. The Normans later adapted the name as Harwo, and several documents refer to Hergra. In 1094 the Archbishop of Canterbury commissioned a church, but it was left to his successor St Anselm, to conduct the consecration. However, the Bishop of London, Lanfranc, felt he was being snubbed and caused an unseemly disturbance during the ceremony. The building construction has subsequently been attributed to Lanfranc.

In 1143, when the anarchy of Stephen’s reign had lasted for eight years, a young man was put up at one of the Harrow Inns. His hostess is said to have dreamed that she saw this young man squatting on the roof of Harrow Church (then without a steeple) and his robes covered the whole edifice. The strong young man with exceptionally good eyesight and hearing was Thomas Becket, then known as Tome Lund (Thomas of London).

He had come in the prime of his life to the Court of Archbishop Theobald (not to be confused with Theobald of Sudbury, much more of which later) at Harrow to affect his service to a powerful church which was becoming more powerful. Although he quarrelled with another young man who was to become the future Archbishop of York, (see Notes below) his rise was rapid. He served Henry II faithfully as Chancellor of England but when that monarch elevated him to Archbishop of Canterbury the historic struggle between Henry II and Becket began. This was a struggle that shook Christendom.

Assassination of Becket 29 December 1170

In 1163, Thomas, the Archbishop, held his court, (possibly at Roxeth) and there entertained the papal emissaries (an abbot, a count, and a bishop). They persuaded Thomas, against his better judgement to submit at Clarendon to Henry’s claims over the church. Between such a King and such an Archbishop there could be no lasting reconciliation and for six years Becket was an exile at Pontigny. Then he returned to his own country, his own cathedral, and his own manor at Harrow. Simon, Abbot of St Albans, (as illustrated in one of the windows of Harrow Church) failed to effect a reconciliation between the Archbishop and the King. (Matthew Pern’s account of the last residence of St Thomas at Harrow from 12th to 17th December 1170).

Simon Theobald of Sudbury became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1375 and chief minister of the Crown in 1379. His importance would likely to have given rise to the manor at Harrow being named Sudbury. Although he was known to be wise, benign, and gentle his enforced taxation on the populace, to fund the King’s war, made him unpopular. He was murdered by Wat Tyler’s rebels during the Peasants Revolt over the disputed poll taxes.

His Grace Simon Theobald, by Raden Ajeng Wahyuni

Simon Theobald of Sudbury, Suffolk came from a relatively wealthy family. He has been described as a mild and gentle person, wise and learned. He had a good education in Cambridge and in Paris universities. In 1356 he became Chaplain to the Pope Innocent VI, and was sent on a mission to King Edward III. In 1361 he was made Chancellor to Salisbury and soon after became Bishop of London. In May of 1375 he succeeded William Whittlesey as Archbishop of Canterbury and during the rest of his life he was a partisan of John of Gaunt.

Simon had served for 12 years as an auditor (judge) of Rota at the papal Curia in his early years. He is known to have been consistently developing buildings and alterations in London and elsewhere. At Sudbury, his birthplace, in 1375 he virtually rebuilt St Gregory’s church to become a college of education for clergymen.

As Archbishop, he had led the funeral services of Edward, the Black Prince in 1376. In 1377, following the death of Edward III, Simon crowned the new young king, Richard II, at Westminster Abbey. In 1378, John Wycliffe was brought before him at Lambeth, but he only undertook proceedings against the reformer under intense pressure. He became heavily involved with building work at Canterbury. The nave was demolished and rebuilt. Simon was prepared to subsidise the costs by some 3,000 marks, a great deal of money. He was also responsible for strengthening the city wall and the rebuilding of the great Westgate.

In 1380 Simon became Lord Chancellor, he was faced with a virtually empty Treasury. The French expeditions had been costly. Three months wages were due at the garrisons of Brest, Cherbourg, and Calais. The king’s jewels were in pawn to the City of London as a surety of £5,000. The king needed the sum of £160,000 if they were to continue the war with France. Imports of wool were at a low and the only way of raising money was to increase taxation. They settled on a poll tax to raise £100,000 if the Church raised the rest. There was a proviso that the richest would pay up to six groats per man and wife so that the tax would fall less heavily on the others. While Parliament was in agreement, the nation was not!

The uprising known as the ‘Peasants Revolt’ led by Wat Tyler and on Friday 14 June 1381, a large crowd came to London. They called “Where is the traitor to the kingdom? Where is the spoiler of the commons?” Simon’s alleged reply was “Neither a traitor nor despoiler am I but your Archbishop.” Simon was taken from the tower of London and beheaded on Tower Hill by the Kentish and Essex peasants; it was a messy affair. His head was paraded around, then put above the gatehouse on London Bridge. A few days later it was Wat Tylers head on display. Simon’s body was taken to Canterbury where he was buried with great pomp. He was buried with a lead cannon ball in place of his head. The head of Simon was quickly taken back to Suffolk to be placed in St Gregory’s Church, at Sudbury.

Simon’s scull in St Gregory’s Church, Sudbury, Suffolk

In 1991 the Sudbury Freemen’s Trust arranged for a plaque to be affixed to the Bishops Gateway in St Gregory’s churchyard, Sudbury, to commemorate the founding of a college in 1375 for the training of priests by Simon Theobald and his brother John, and the Bishop of Norwich.

College Gateway at the rear of St Gregory’s Church, Sudbury, Suffolk

A close up of a paper

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The Mercers of London petition the Crown in response to the actions of Nicholas Brembre

Nicholas Brembre who was born in Kent in 1322, younger son of Sir John Brembre, and of a fearless nature can be found to be at the forefront of the economic, social, and political upheavals that threatened the reign of Richard II. Like Whittington he was attracted to London. There he aided with Bishop Courtenay and the powerful victualling guilds, who accepted John of Northampton as their trade union organiser and champion. In 1377, just before Edward III died, the Duke of Lancaster was incensed against Londoners. He deposed Adam Staples, the Lord Mayor, and Brembre was the strong man appointed to take Adam Staples place. Nicholas Brembre was a success as Mayor. He pleased his friends by attacking all foreign traders and appeased his enemies by limiting the activities of some multiple traders.

He worked for many years with Geoffry Chaucer at the Customs Office, and was one of the citizens who did not panic when Wat Tyler’s men overran London. After witnessing the violent deaths of Treasurer Hales, Archbishop Sudbury and Wat Tyler, he swore to stand by the young King Richard to the death; and he set about forming a King’s party in the City to counteract the activities of Lancaster and John of Northampton. In 1383 he was elected Lord Mayor of the City of London.

Nicholas Brembre was a close ally of Richard II until he encroached upon Richard’s power in1388. Acting upon his own authority, he was considered treasonous by some of his contemporaries. In the end, the merciless Parliament condemned Brembre for his wrongdoings, and he was executed on 20 February 1388. He was a man who considered himself as ‘king within London, but, by the time of his execution, he was widely viewed as a man without scruples, who even his closest supporters had abandoned. In his final months, he was isolated by friends and foes. Having reached the pinnacle of power, Brembre ultimately fell from grace and was accused of the worst of crimes, treason.


The manor at Harrow is known to have belonged to Wulfred, Archbishop of Canterbury back in 825. The church of St Mary was consecrated nearly 1000 years ago standing on the ‘Green Hill’ now known as Harrow on the Hill.

Harrow St Mary’s Church, 11th century built by Lanfranc Archbishop of Canterbury 1087, Consecrated by St Anselm in 1094. Sudbury Court, residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury.

Archbishop Theobald of Bec c1090- April 1161, was the Norman Archbishop of Canterbury from 1139 until 1161. The Archbishopric then came to Thomas Becket. Roger de Pont (or Robert of Bishops Bridge) born in Normandy was also serving under Theobald of Bec. He rebuilt York Minster which had been damaged by fire. Becket excommunicated Roger in late 1170. Roger was eventually returned to office in late 1171 and died 1181 in York. NB there had been controversy with Becket over the crowning of Henry II’s living son Henry.

Thomas Becket (Saint) born 21 December 1118 Cheapside, London. He was assassinated 29 December 1170 Canterbury Cathedral. Archbishop Thomas Becket is said to have spent his last Christmas at the Harrow manor. Becket was martyred on 29th December. He had been Lord High Chancellor of GB 1155 – 1162, and was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until December 1170.

The large Sudbury estate (never was a burgh nor borough) in 1273, it appears as the southern manor of Harrow, and the Sudbury Commons is known to have stretched from Wembley to the foot of Harrow hill. The lands were within the Hundred of Gore. Sudbury Court was the principal residence of the archbishops of Canterbury until the end of the 14th century, after which the manor was divided and leased out. The Court is believed to be a moated manor house, that continued to be a residence until quite recent times. Possibly at Roxeth or Headstone.

In line with the Reformation, the manor of Harrow was granted in 1545 by Archbishop Cranmer to Henry VIII. The king later granted the manor to Sir Edward North whose family held it until 1630.

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