Searching for My Ancestors

by Norman John Le Grice

Le Grice or Le Grys, large or small L, Huguenot or Norman? All these questions must have come into the minds of many people with these names and not unnaturally, I used to chat to my father; Charles Clement Le Grice2 of Kings Lynn about these, when I was a boy. His answers satisfied me that the earlier spelling was Le Grys, that probably a small I was correct and that the ancestors were not Huguenot, the original family having come over with William the Conqueror3.

My father told me stories of money held in chancery, of coats of arms, of great Uncle Saul 4 and last but most important of all, of a book comprising many volumes entitled  ”Norfolk Churches’ by E Bloomfield 5 He, it seems, spent most of his time visiting all the churches in Norfolk and recording memorial inscriptions and extracting interesting titbits from church registers. This monumental work was mentioned in our conversations so frequently that when I started searching seriously for my ancestors, it was to Bloomfield’s pages I turned and found much information.

The Coat of Arms intrigued me the most; although I had little knowledge of its heraldic features. A vague idea of the out-standing characteristics that had lingered in my memory from childhood, was a shield with some little pigs running across it.

There is something fascinating about a coat of arms with its bright colours, its quarterings depicting a family history within the limited area of a shield, its link with bygone days. This ancient device, I felt should be revived. Here was an inheritance of which the present and future generations should not be deprived. The family estates had been dispersed long since, but here was a traditional symbol of the past, yet which should ever be present to link each succeeding generation with those of earlier days.

My problem now was how to obtain all the information necessary to establish the right to the coat of arms. I discovered it would be necessary to prove a pedigree back to the last ancestor to whom the right had been granted by the Heralds.

Somerset House6 was of little help, because, except for wills, the records of births, marriages and deaths do not date earlier than July 1st,1837. The best method of obtaining information for genealogical purposes before this date is the parish registers that are kept in the local churches. These I felt would have to be searched to find out what secret they could reveal. This however, presented some major problems. Which church registers to search, the distance involved, and the fact that I later discovered that country parsons are invariably on holiday or visiting the neighbouring parish or teaching scripture in a local school. Fortunately, I lived near London, so I resolved to visit probable sources of information available in that great city.

The Society of Genealogists7 headquarters was a little disappointing, for although there is a library which contains over 30,000 volumes in print or manuscript I found only references to the family which could have been obtained in many good libraries. i was able to examine Boyd’s Marriage Register8 wherein I found some twenty-nine references to the name, but this added little to Mr Revell’s8 pedigree. There was a copy of Rye’s ‘Norfolk Families9 in which mention is made of the Coat of Arms and some earlier ancestors. A copy of Harrods Directory of Norfolk10 published in 1863 has several references to the name.
At the British Museum11 I was able to see the Harlean Society12 printed version of the Visitation of Norfolk13 giving some pedigrees of Le Grys and Bloomfield’s ‘Norfolk Churches’14 which contains over ninety references to the name appearing on memorial tablets or monuments.

The Guildhall Library15 in the City provided me with additional information from such original sources as the Feet of Fines16- Norfolk 1198-1204. Dugdale’s Monasticom Anglicanum17 from which I was able to check the 12th century references to the name on a pedigree lent to me by my cousin, Canon Edwin Le Grice,18 Dean of Ripon.

From the Holborn Public Library I found references to the name in Weekley’s ‘The Romance of Names’19 and in C L’Estrange Ewen’s ‘History of Surnames of the British Isles’20.

I have mentioned only a few of the books and records I searched at these institutions.

A very interesting evening was spent with Mr Revell 21at his home, when we were able to compare notes and discuss the possibilities of finding some missing links in the family chain. Undoubtedly the most interesting experience during the searches in London was my visit to the College of Arms22 and is worthy of description.

I passed through the wrought iron gates, bounded on either side by railings, their points gilded and their bases set in a low brick wait Beyond the rectangular forecourt stood the red brick Georgian building which is the headquarters of British heraldry. It seemed as I strode across the cobbled court that I should have arrived in a carriage, with footmen and powdered wigs, or clad in armour and mounted on a charger. The atmosphere being of some remote period from the past. Doubt as to the wisdom of continuing further entered my mind as I climbed the half dozen or so steps leading to the entrance hall. What credentials had I to offer the officials in this building? I was neither peer nor knight and the sixth of an acre of land, which I possessed, would not qualify me for being one of the landed gentry. I was tempted to retrace my steps and mingle once more with the passing City office workers in the London streets. Alas, it was too late, for standing before me in the oak-panelled hall was a footman clothed in maroon livery with gold buttons

He greeted me with a polite, slightly cold, “Good morning Sir”, to which I replied with the same courtesy but omitting the ‘Sir’ and adding that my name was Le Grice and wished to inquire whether I had the right to use my Family Coat of Arms23. He told me to take the staircase to the third floor where I would find a door marked ‘Windsor Herald’24

Walking away in a dignified manner, I mounted the staircase slowly observing the oak panels with many Coats of Arms depicted at each landing. The doors of each office had names such as Herald or Pursuivant.25 There was a silence about these landings and the staircase, which gave me the impression that the rooms were unoccupied. The higher I climbed, the faster beat my heart with either fear or excitement but still no sounds of life. I began to wonder if this was a dream. At the third landing, there was the door, just as the footman had told me with the name ‘Windsor Herald’ thereon. I tapped, perhaps timidly, and with some hesitation, for I felt this was no place for me, a mere commoner. Just as l was about to give up, there having been no response to my timid tap, I remembered having read of one, Sir Robert Le Grys26 of medieval days. The blue blood could scarcely be in my veins, but at least this was some justification for my presence. I was about to give a louder knock when a passer-by on the landing suggested I walk in.

On entering this doorway, I noticed it lead into a small corridor with several doors, a kind of suite of offices. None of these doors had any identification on them. While contemplating which to try first; I thought I heard the sound of a typewriter being tapped, or was it the clink of armour; pr possibly a sword being rattled in it scabbard, for how ridiculous to hear a typewriter in this haven of the past. No modern device would be tolerated, only, I thought quill pens would be used here. While thinking in this fashion, another sound fell upon my ears. It was the distinct sound of feminine laughter coming from the same room. This was my cue, I tapped gently on the door of this room and almost immediately, a charming young lady in twentieth century clothes greeted me.

I explained the purpose of my visit and presented my visiting card. It looked very insignificant. Just a name with a suburban address. To have presented a card bearing an address such as Langley Hall 27or Brockdish Manor28; Norfolk would have looked so much more impressive. The Secretary told me she would inquire of Mr Graham Vivian29 whether he could see me. There was little time to wait before I was ushered into the presence of the Windsor Herald.31

On crossing the threshold of his office, I rather expected to see my host dressed up like those figures printed on playing cards. But no, here was I in the company of an ordinary man in an ordinary office not unlike that of a solicitor’s. There were many bundles of papers held together with pink tape, lying around on the desks and tables, some bookcases containing massive books, a few genealogical trees in frames and a picture or two on the walls.

Mr Graham Vivian29 was a middle-aged man, fairly tall and having a slight stoop from the shoulders. He rose from his chair and to my surprise said “I’ve been doing some work on your name recently” Why, I thought, should he be sufficiently interested in the name to have even heard of it? He then explained that the work he had been doing was in connection with the Cornish family of Le Grices. I told him I came from the Norfolk family, but did not know whether there was a common ancestry. Mr Graham Vivian then gave me an account of the efforts, which the Cornish family had made to establish a title to use the early Coat of Arms, but had failed to discover any proof.

The Le Grices of Cornwall32 had been traced back to Norfolk but could not be linked with any Le Grys who had used the Family Coat. The Duke of Norfolk33 made a new grant of Arms to Charles Henry Le Grice34 of Trereife, Penzance, Cornwall in 1936. It recites that this family was traditionally descended from Le Grys of Brockdish35 but was unable to prove it exactly owing to the long lapse of time.

This family entered a pedigree in the records taking them back to Henry Le Grys of Diss36, Norfolk whose will was dated 20th January, 1663 and proved 3rd March, 1664. This pedigree is set out in Burke’s Landed Gentry37. The Coat of Arms is similar to the original one. The main difference is that the shield has a pally of four gules and sable, whereas the Brockdish family used a shield having quarterly azure and gules. Mr Graham Vivian showed me a copy of the grant of arms to the Cornish family, and after he had told me of the inability to prove descent from the older Norfolk family, he remarked that although no documentary evidence was available, he had, since seeing me, become convinced that the two families have a common background This, he said, because he could see a slight resemblance between Mr Le Grice of Cornwall and me

I thought this was said as a joke so asked if he really meant what he said, because, I added, it must have been a great many years to reach a common ancestry, possibly to the fourteenth or fifteenth century. To this he remarked that basic family likeness, in his opinion, carried through very many generations in the same way as basic racial features are carried on from one generation to another over the centuries.

Graham Vivian promised to search the records at the College of Arms and let me know what information there was available about the Norfolk families.

On a subsequent visit too the College, the Windsor Herald told me there was a record of ten generations of Le Grys of Brockdish, beginning with Sir Robert Le Grys of Langley of the County of Norfolk, Knight with a wife Olive, down to Christopher of Billingford38. The Visitation39 was made in 1563. In the basement of the College I saw the original record of the Visitation when the Herald recorded the pedigree referred to above. The Arms granted to this family were;  ‘Quarterly gules and azure on a band argent three boars passant sable all within a bordure or. Crest a boar passant sable collard or.”

“There are ten quarterings40 shown to the arms, which are clearly of ancient date, their origin lost in antiquity” to quote the College account “The arms of Le Gros of Norfolk41 are; quarterly argent and azure on a bend sable, three martlets or”

There is a similarity in these arms, which argues a probable common origin of the names.

Rye9 in ‘Norfolk Families’ writes; “It was a visitation family  (ref Harlean Visitations p 186). The assumption of the arms of Le Gros of Stoley is suspicious, as the two names are utterly different and I do not find any early coat for Le Gris. The College of Arms accepts the Le Grys coat from the fact that it was recognized by long usage and allowed to them at the Visitation, although it does not appear in Fosters Feudal Coats42, whereas the Le Gros or Le Grose does.

Whether there is any connection between the names and in consequence the arms is very doubtful. It may be the Le Grys coat was so emblazoned simply because of the similarity of the names, or it may have been co-incidence. Who can say?

The various methods of spelling have from time to time aroused interest and sometimes doubt as to whether all originate from the one Norman Conquest family, or whether there were two distinct families, the one Norman43, Le Grys and the other one of Huguenot44 origin. The Huguenot refugees, after fleeing from the continent because of religious persecution during the reign of Louis XIV45 of France, found shelter on the Earl of Bedford’s46 estate at Thorney. A register was commenced in 1654 at Thorney Abbey Church in which was recorded the baptisms of the refugees’ children.  The name of Le Grice is reputed to be among these records, but there is no trace of the name in the Huguenot Society47 printed version of the register. On the other hand, Bloomfield  (Vol X, p 52) mentions one John Grice as being Rector of Stanfield in 1451 and also a marriage entry (Vol MI, p542) recites ‘William GoIdweIl of Great Chart in Kent to Kath, dr of Robert Grice of Brockdish in Norfolk about 1498. There are many other references in Bloom field’s Norfolk where Le Grice is used, but I do not find the spelling too reliable in some contexts, as there are instances where two separate references to the same person have different spelling. Further evidence of the spelling Grice, before the Huguenot immigration, may be  found in the following extract from Bishop Redman’s Visitation  of Norfolk in 159748 Archdeaconry of Norwich. “St Mary Costing – William Legrice, gent; That he hathe not receyved the communion of two years past Comp. ideo excom. It is interesting to note in passing that the y is used in the spelling of receyved’ instead of the modern i but Grice is used instead of Grys.

The ancestors of the Cornish family changed the spelling from Le Grys to Le Grice in 1713, thus (‘Charles Le Grice of Bury, Attorney, born 6th August 1713, son of John Le Grys of Bury” in Burke’s Landed Gentry. Wherever we find Grip, Gris, Grys or Grice, I think we may safely regard them as synonymous. Ernest Weekly in ‘The Romance of Names’ 1922 writes, “Medieval spelling was roughly phonetic”. This could readily account for the interchange of y and i and c’ for ‘s’. He points out that the Middle English was fond of y for i; double consonants and of final ‘e’.

An interesting example of the interchange of ‘e’, ‘i’ and y’  appears in the following extract from the Norfolk Sessions Roll 1394- 7  “John Tye, servant of Adam Pyk, parson oft he church of  Grymston, to have him at the next delivery of the gaol of Lenn Episcopi each under pain etc….  Today Grymston is Grimston and Lenn Episcopi is King’s Lynn. In the Muster Rolls for 1569 – 1577 Grimston is spelt Gremston.
Weekly continues, ‘Every surname must be; 1. Personal from sire or ancestor, 2. local from place of residence, 3,  occupation from trade or office , 4 a nickname from bodily attribute, character etc, that ‘le’ is usually though not always put before the trade name or nickname.

The family name then, if we are to be guided by the above authority, should be placed in category 4.. The question, which then arises, is whether the name is nickname, bodily attribute or character? It could be any of these, Le Gris, Icelandic for pig could be ‘the grey; the Lincolnshire for pig or young boar is ‘grice’ or again Le Grys could be ‘the grey’

As a rule, animal nicknames are taken rather from the domestic species with which the peasantry were familiar and whose habit would suggest comparison, generally disparaging, with those of their neighbours,” writes Weekly.

L’Estrange Ewen in his ‘History of Surnames of the British Isles’ is perhaps kinder in the following; “…Certain of the zoo’ names are actually of the characteristic class, but with signification quite different from what appears at first sight…’Grice’ which occurs as Le Gris, is the ‘grey.

Rye, in ‘Norfolk Families’ is quite definite, for he says ‘Grice; le or Le Grys. This, no doubt came from Le Grys, the gray man.  It was a family of some importance from Henry VIlI to the end of Elizabeth, there being no less than fourteen inquisitions post mortem to people of that name during the period.

The two interpretations of the name, pig or grey, may explain the reason for the style of the Coat of Arms. In non-heraldic language, the Coat of Arms used by Christopher Le Grys (16″‘ century) consisted of a shield divided into four quarters, the top left and the bottom right being coloured red and the other two being coloured blue. Diagonally across the shield from top left to bottom right there is a wide band of silver on which are three black boars in a standing position.  The crest is a black boar with a gold collar and the shield is surrounded by a golden border. Earlier coats had the order of the colours reversed and there was no gold collar or border  these may have been added at the time of Christopher to  difference it from the coat used by his elder brother Anthony  who used the original coat.

In heraldry there is no colour grey, so it is possible, in its  place, silver was used and thus the silver band to denote ‘Le  Grys’, the grey man. It is a fact that in heraldry, it was a common practice to introduce a pun on the name if possible and what better pun than the boar? Hence the three boars super-imposed on the silver (grey) band.

When tracing ancestors to compile a family free, it is  usual to commence with your father, then grandfather and so  on as far back as possible. Given plenty of time and travel facilities, this is unquestionably the ideal method to adopt.  The circumstances in which the present research has been carried out, made it practically impossible to work according to the usual method. Other people had previously done a certain amount of work so that my task was mainly to check and go over the ground again to fill in missing links in the chain of relevant details.

My story so far has been introductory, now I will try to take you back to medieval days and build up the family tree as we visit those villages in Norfolk where the family has been  recorded, sometimes in church registers, sometimes on tomb stones or memorial tablets, but nearly always in Norfolk,  where the name has been used continuously for some 900 years. As the tree grows, it may be necessary to wander sometimes from the trunk to explore along one or another of the branches where some special detail of interest calls for attention and then to return to the main stem leading to the present day. Earlier, I referred to some preliminary research which was made in London, and before we leave that populated area for the quiet byways of East Anglia, I must refer to that  remarkable document Domesday Book, for here is the earliest  reference as far as I am aware, to the family ancestry, and  this provides the root of the tree. I have not seen the original entry, but quote from ‘Monasticum Anglicanum, by Sir Nigel Dugdale, Vol II 481b, Shaftesbury Nunnery, Dorset
“Ecclesia tenet in Ferneham 1 hide quam tenet de es Ainlfus  et uxor Hugonis fil Grip”
Translated by my nephew Malcolm Gill BA as follows; “The church holds in Ferneham one hide which Ainlfus and the wife of Hugo son of Grip(s) holds for it ”
Domesday Book, Dorset 61 78b.
This gives us the fact that one named Grip or Gris had a son  Hugo.

Grip or Gris is presumed to be Erard Le Gris who is reputed to have served under the banner of Roger de Montgomerie at Hastings in 1066.I have yet to find documentary proof of this, but it appears on a copy of a pedigree compiled some years ago and is at present in the possession of my cousin Canon Edwin Le Grice, Dean of Ripon.

Apparently Erard le Gris possessed much land in several  counties, for he is reputed to have had five sons, Walter in Suffolk, Hugo in Dorset, Guilliame, Osbert in Lincolnshire and John in Shropshire, all of whom we may assume inherited portions of their father’s estates. Four of these sons are mentioned  in Monasticom Anglicanum Hugo, already mentioned above and Walter, Osbert and John who appear in the following extract;

Vol 3, 405a Eye Abbey in Suffolk  “Et assensu Walteri filu Grip, do eis totam terram quam habuit  (And with the agreement of Walter son of Gris, I give to them  all the land which be held in Frasingfield together with a mill”  (from the document of Malet, Baron of William the Conqueror,  founding the Abbey)
Vol 3 519 Abbey of Shrewsbury Reign of Henry 1.
“…..teste Johanne filio Grip”.
“with John son of Gris “(a witness to a gift of land,)
Vol 4 125b Preston Priory, Lincoln, Foundation Charter 1114
“Totam terram quae fuit Osberti filiu Gippi”
“All the land which belonged to Osbert son of Gris”

Eye Abbey in Suffolk is just over the border from South  Norfolk and stands in the centre of the village which is tucked  away about four miles east of the Roman road, still the main  road from Norwich to Ipswich.. Fresingfield is mentioned in the same record, and there is a mill there to this day about eight miles north east of Eye.

It is from Walter we must assume the Norfolk Family descended. The evidence at this early period is scant and much more research is necessary before any authoritative conclusions can be reached. A pedigree, which I believe was compiled by Alan Le Grice, a second cousin of Charles Clement Le Grice of Kings Lynn, my father, records Richard Grys of Neatesherde as being a son of Walter; followed by Gautier, alive in 1148, a grandson and Guilliame alive in 1149 as a great-grandson. Then follows Sir Robert le Grys as the son of this Guillame. This may or may not be correct, but from this stage we can commence our research in Norfolk with more assurance..

Sir Robert Le Grys of Langley, in the county of Norfolk is the earliest name recorded on the pedigree at the College of Arms. Of Sir Robert, Bloomfield writes in Vol 2p 180 in his ‘Norfolk Churches; when referring to the village of Thurton
“In the reign of Richard 1, Robert de Grys was lord; in the tenth of that king, the Abbot of Langley demised to him certain tithes paying 8s per annum
‘This Robert; in the 4th of Henry III, sold to Eborard de Vernon, the advowson of this church for 10 marks and in the 23rd of that King, Simon de Grys, Walter de Calthorp, the Abbot of Langley, the monks of Thetford, and John Grys of Chedeston were found to hold one fee of the Earl of Norfolk.
‘Sir Simon de Grys had an interest here in the 16th of Edward I and Roger Grys in the 20th of Edward III and in the first year of Henry IV the Lord Mowbray held it in capite as descended from the Bigots”.

Sir Robert Le Grys of Langley was one of the equerries to King Richard I

Bloomfield gives several generations of descendants of Sir Robert in Vol 5 p334 when referring to Charles Le Grice of Brockdish.
“Charles Le Grice Esq. of Brockdish and his heirs, who was descended from Sir Robert Le Grys of Langley in Norfolk, Knight Equerry to Richard I and Oliva his wife, whose son, Sir Symon le Grys, Knight of Thurveton,was alive in 1238 and married Agnes, daughter and co-heir to Augustine, son of Richard de Waxham or Waxtenesham in Norfolk, by whom he had Roger Le Grys of Thurton Esq. who lived in the time of Edward I whose son Thomas Le Grys of Thurton had Roger Le Grys of Brockdish who lived here in 1392; whose son Thomas left John Le Grys his eldest son and heir who married a Bateman and lies buried in St John Baptist Church in Norwich; but having no male issue, William Le Grice Esq of Brockdish, son of Robert Le Grys of Brockdish, his uncle, inherited; he married Sibyl, daughter and sole heir  of Edward Singleton of Wingfield in Suffolk and had Anthony.”

One ‘Robertum Le Grys’ is mentioned in The Feet of Fines,  Norfolk, 1198 – 1202 Case No 153 File 9 No 2l7 Norf.’ and  again in July 1202 “Case 154 File 21 No 215 Norf ” This  Robertum is probably Sir Robert
Case No 153. (Hec est finales concordia facto in curia domini regis apud  Norwic in die sancte Fideli Ano regni regis Ricardi 1 (6th Oct 1198) coram R Eliens anchidiacono William de Warenn.  Roberto filio Roger, William de Ruben, Observe filio Hereul,  Michaele Belet justic et alus baronibus et fidelibus domini  regis ibidem tunc presentibus inter Rogerum filium Willelmi et  Robertum and Richerum pententes et Robertum le Gris  tenentem de XVI acris terre cam pertinentes in Turton unde recognitio de morte antecessoris surmonita flait inter eos in ore facto curia sciliset quod predicti Rogerus et Robertus et  Richerus remiserunt et quitum clamaurunt totumjus et  clamium saum quod habuerunt in predicta terre cum pertinentus precacto Roberto le Gris et heribus suis in perpetaum pro tribus marc is argenti.”
Case No 154  *’Hec est finales concordia facto in curia a domini apud Norich  in die sancti Benedicti anno regni regis Johannis III(1 July  1202) coram C. de Insul Reginaldo de Cornhill, Waltero de  Cresping, Reginaldo de Argentum justic domini regis et alus  barinibus tunc ibi presentibus inter Ricardum de Senges  pretentem per Robertum Le Gris positum loco suc as lucandum  uel perdendum et Rogerum de Ho tenentem de XII acris terre  cum pertinentus in Topecroft in Wudetum unde recognito  magne assise surmonita frit inter cos in predicto Rogero et  heredibus suis totam jus et clamium quod habuit in predicto  terra de se et hereditus suis imperpetuam. Et pro hac quita  clemamtia et fine et concordia predictus Rogerus dedit predicto Ricard dedit predicto Ricard iiij marcas argenti.

Whether Sir Robert Le Grys lived at Langley Hall or some manor house at Thurton close by is not certain. It is probable he owned estates in both parishes. The present Langley Hall is of more recent date and is occupied by a school, which moved from Norwich. The church at Langley is used as the  school chapel. This church is of considerable family interest because in the south wall of the nave there is a memorial  window, which has three lights. The centre light depicted a full-length statue of St Matthew standing barefooted on a plinth holding an inverted axe in his right hand and reading from a  parchment scroll held in the left hand. The name St Matthew being written above his head in a semicircular form giving the  impression of a halo. Above this, a carved canopy and in the apex, a cloud effect. The left and right hand lights together depicting six quarterings of the Le Grys coat of arms.
13  …..had Roger Le Grice of Brockdish who lived there in 1392; whose son Thomas left John Le Grice his eldest son and heir; who married a Bateman and now lies buried in St John The Baptist Church in Norwich; but having no male issue, William Le Grice of Brockdish, Esq. Son of Robert Le Grice of Brockdish, his uncle, inherited. He Married Sibbil, daughter and sole heir to Richard Singleton of Wingfield in Suffolk and had Anthony.
Another interesting Quotation from Bloomfield reads –
Anthony le Grice of Brockdish Esq. who married Margaret, daughter of John Wingfield, Esq of Dunham, who lived in the Place and died there in 1553, and lies buried in the church, by whom his wife also was interred in 1562.His brother Gilbert Grice of Yarmouth, Gent, first agreed with the Duke for Brockdish, but died before it was completed; so that Anthony who was bound with him for the performance of the covenants went ahead with the purchase for his son, Charles le Grice, aforesaid, to whom it was conveyed; he married two wives; the first was Susan, daughter and heir of Andrew Manfield, Gent, and Jane his wife who was buried here in 1564; the second wife was Hester, daughter of Sir George Blagge, Kt, who held the Manor for life, and from these two wives descended numerous branches of the Grices of Brockdish, Norwich and Wakefield in Yorkshire. He was buried in this church 12 Apr 1575 and was found to hold the Manor of the Hundred of Earsham, in free soccage without any rent or service in free capite…….. William Le Grice Esq was his eldest son and heir, who at the death of his mother-in-law was possessed of the whole estate, for in 1585, William Howard, then Lord of Brockdish Hall Manor, agreed and sold it to William and Henry le Grice his brother and their heirs; but Howard, dying the next year the purchase was not completed til1598, when Edward Coppledick, Gent and other trustees, brought a writ of entry against John son of the said William Howard, Gent, and had it settled absolutely in the Grices, from which time the two manors have continued joined as they are at this day, by Alice, daughter and heiress of Mr Eyre of Yarmouth, he left Francis le Grice Esq. his son and heir, who sold the whole estate , manors and avowson to Robert Lawrence of Brockdish.” Vol. 5 334.

Charles le Grys, son of Anthony had an interest in St Peter Mancroft, Norwich for Clement Parman was made chaplain on the donation and nomination of Charles. Later his son William who must have inherited, conveyed the rectory church and all its appertenances to Henry Greenwood, Christopher Barnet and many others (Bloomfield Vol IV p187 extract). This Charles also had an interest in the Priory Manor of Aslacton in 1561 and in 1574 after Charles death it was granted to Andrew Mansfield of Norwich.

In Denton Church there is in the East End a large window occupying most of the wall, which to a student of heraldry is of exceptional interest, because of the multiplicity of coats of arms illustrated in glass. The bottom centre section

contains the arms of Charles Le Grys and Manfylde with numerous quarterings. Included in them it is reputed are the arms of Wachesham (Waxham?), King of Shelly, Hales of  Norton Subcroft, Bydgoode, L’Estrange, Borough, Scrogan of Dickleborough and Denton, Launde and Singleton. Probably all these were ancestors through the female line. The section of this window containing the Le Grys arms and the quarterings was, in the time of Bloomfield, in the south chancel over the rectory pew.

The children of Hester, Charles’ second wife, were Cobham, Dorothy, Charles, Judith (who married Henry Le Grys of Wakefield) and Robert.

Gilbert, the second son of William and Sybell, and brother of Anthony of Brockdish, married one by the name of Nargaret, (surname unknown) and lived at Yarmouth. He had one son named William who was a Member of Parliament for Yarmouth and Clerk of the Stables to Queen Elizabeth. He married Katherine Colgrave and had John, Henry, William and three daughters. None of the sons married. His will is dated 1598.

The third son of William and Sybell was John of whom nothing is known except that he was living in 1559. Mary, the only daughter of William and Ssybell married Thomas Reeve.

The fourth son was Christopher who lived at Corbets Manor, Billingford, which he purchased from Sir Robert Southwell. He married Ann, the eldest daughter of Robert Howard of Brockdish, Christopher, was for a time, lord and patron of St Leonards Church Billingford. By Ann he had three sons, Robert, Henry and Anthony, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Dorothy. Christopher was buried at Billingford in 1558.

Robert, the eldest son of Christopher, lived at Billingford and married Susanna Ayre of Bury. He died in 1583 and was buried at Billingford.

Christopher, Robert’s son died in 1601 at the early age of 23, but having survived his father, he inherited the estate, and was lord and patron of St Leonards, Billingford. A memorial tablet to his memory remains still on the north chancel wall. This incorporates the Le Grys coat of arms (very indistinct) and bears the following inscription

“Here lyeth buryed the body of Christopher Le Grys Esqr, sometime Lord and Patron of this church, only child to Robert Le Grys Esq and Susanna his wife, daughter and coheir to Tho. Ayre of Bury in Suf, Esqr, ‘lineally descended from Sir Robert Le Grys of Langley in Norff, Kt, one of y Querri to King Richard  y First. He married Margaret, Daugh & Heir to Tho Whipple of Dickleborough, Gent & Elizab. His wife, Daugh & Coheire to John Garningham of Belton in Suff. Esq and had issue by her only Frances, who marryed with Sir William Platyers, Kt, eldest sonne to Sir Thomas Playters of Slatterly in Suffk & Baronet.  He ended his life the 19th of October 1601 and in the 23rd year of his age.  Sic Nomen ippus perys”

(Note the spelling in the above is as near as to the original as is possible with a typewriter furthermore the mason who carved the lettering was not very accurate, thus married is sometimes spelt with a ‘y’)

Christopher’s will, which was probably made on his death-bed, is of interest, because it throws some light on the social conditions of the time. I quote in full and leave the reader to guess the circumstances which caused his death.

October 16th, 1601  – I, Christopher Le Grys, of Pirleston, als Billingford, in the county of Norf, Gent, will my earthly body be buried in the church of Pirleston als Billingford at the discretion of the executors., herinafter named.
And I will and my mind is that my executors shall give and distribute unto all such persons who shall come to my Buryall, two pence a piece, and I further will and appoint that such of my kinsfolk as my executors shall think meet shall have mourning gowns, cloaks and coats, at the day of my buryall, and that my body be brought to the ground in a meet and seemly manner, according to my Estates and degree.
Item – I further give and devise unto the church-wardens and overseers of the town of Pirleston als Billingford, for the time being, out of my lands, tenements or hereditaments in Pirleston aforesaid one annuity of yearly rent of forty shillings, to be paid unto them yearly at the feast of St Michael, for and towards the relief of poor inhabitants of the same toune forever to be paid.
Item – I give unto the churchwardens and inhabitants of Dickleburgh twenty shillings. To Skols, twenty shillings, Thorp ten shillings, Brockdish ten shillings, Diss twenty shillings, Thelton ten shillings, to be paid unto them presently after my decease upon reasonable request, for and towards the relief of the poor of the several parishes aforesaid
Item – I further give and devise unto Henry Le Grys, my uncle, all such goods and chattels as be mine now remaining in the custody of my uncle Waldegrave, or his assigns, paying for the same thirty pounds to ye said Mr Waldegrave.
Item – I do further give and devise unto my two men servants, Thomas Clare and Thomas Groome, to either of them five pounds,
Item – I give to John Algar, my farmer, a mourning gown, To Mr Penning a mourning cloak and to Mr Cawley, a minister, a mourning gown.
Item – I give unto Mr Shardlow my good friend, my black ambling gelding, and to Mr Anthony Shardlow, my good neighbour and friend, my Goshawk, to be delivered to him presently after my decease. And I give Richard Vynor, his son-in-law, my falcon, to be delivered to him likewise, after my decease upon reasonable request.
Item – I further give and devise unto every of the poor inhabitants of Pirleston als Billingford, that take the Charity and weekly relief of the said toune, to the men, mourning coats, and to every of their wives and widows, mourning gowns of black frieze.
Item – My mind and will is that my executors shall give and distribute to the poor inhabitants of Pirleston aforesaid, forty shillings, within one month after my decease.
And as to free gifts and disposition of all my mannours, lands, tenements and heriditaments, whatsoever with the real of England, I wholly give and bequeath them unto my uncle Henry Le Grys, and the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten upon this condition, that the said Henry Le Grys and his heirs shall within three months next after my decease by good and sufficient assurance and conveyance in the law, convey and assure unto Margaret my well-beloved wife, so much of the said lands, tenements and heriditaments, as shall of  the clear yearly value of L100.00 by the year, in the opinion of Anthony Shardlow, Gent and Jno Howard for and during the term of ye natural life of her the said Margaret, for and in full lieu , recompense and satisfaction of Joynture or dower of her the said Margaret in or to any of the said manors , lands, tenements and heriditaments  aforesaid.
And my further mind and will is that ye said Margaret, my said wife shall forthwith and presently after the time of such assurance to her made by her writing sufficient in law, fully release, discharge, and quit unto him, the said Henry Le Grys and his heirs, all her right, title and demand of joynture or dower, which she was, or ought to have in and to the said manors etc or any part thereof, as shall then be by the said Henry Le Grys or his heirs reasonably devised, advised and required or by his or their council, Learned in Law Provided,
and my further mind and will is that if she, the said Margaret, should refuse or not seal, and as her deed deliver unto the said Henry Le Grys his heirs or assigns, within three days after reasonable request to be together made by the said Henry , his heirs or assigns, or notice left to that purpose at the now mansion house of Thomas Whipple, Gent, her father, situate in Dickleburgh aforesaid of such a release or discharge of her said joynture and dower in or to my said manor etc according to the true intent and meaning of this my last will.
Then my mind and will is that the said gift and grant so formerly made by the said Henry Le Grys and his heirs of the said land etc, shall be utterly void and of none effect, anything in this my said last will and testament contained to the contrary thereof, in any wise, not withstanding.
I give and devise, the said Margaret my wife, all the residue of my goods, corn, cattle, and plate whatsoever, not herein given and bequeathed, and the profits of all m manors etc, aforesaid, until Michaelmas next ensuing after my decease,
And I do further will and appoint that my said executors shall receive all my debts, as pay my debts, as my trust in him to do, and I do ordaine and make the said Henry Le Grys my said uncle my sole and only executor of this in this my said last will and testament and I do furthur ordine and make my father-in-law Mr Thomas Whipple and John Howard, my supervisors of this my last will and testament, to whom I give for their pains, a ring of gold to be delivered by my said executors, requiring them to be helping with their advice and best furtherance for and toward the better effectual performance of this my said last will and testament.
Item. I do further give and devise unto Charles Le Grys, the son of the said Henry Le Grys, my uncle, all my apparel not herein bequeathed, and all my books, swords and rapiers whatsoever.
Item. I give to Thomas Clare, my man, my suit of apparel that that I do now wear. I give to Thomas Crome, my other suit, called the white suite that is now bloody, to be delivered to them and every of them, by my said executor, within convenient time after my decease.
In Witness thereof I have set my hand and seal in the presence of
John Sherwood, Stephen Shardlow and Robert Dean
Signed Christopher Le Grys”
Christopher’s only daughter, Frances, married Sir William Playters and had no children?  Frances was buried in Dickleburgh Church and there is a large memorial to her on the north chancel wall. The following is an extract from the lengthy epitaph
“Here under lyeth buried the body of Dame Frances Playters, the daughter and heir of Charles {Christopher ed} of Billingford .n Norfolk Esq, She married Sir William Playters of Slatterly in Suff. Knt and Bart. ….. the said Dame Frances dyed at Billingford Hall the 9th of Sept 1659, from whence by her own desire, she was brought and interred in this Parish to which she often manifested a Charitable Affection”

The le Grys families at this period were closely associated with churches in this part of Norfolk as is evidenced by the legacies of Christopher and possibly due to the numbers of manners owned by them. Today there is hanging on a disused door on the north wall of St Leonards Church, Billingford, a list of the rectors which indicates the livings were in the gift of the Le Grice family for over half a century. This list, which has been copied from the registers has been placed there recently I assume, because it is enclosed within a frame of modern manufacture and this may account for the spelling being le Grice.

  • 1552    Henry Watson presented by Charles Le Grice
  • 1556    Nicholas Calvared presented by Charles Le Grice
  • 1560    William Hudson presented to Anne Le Grice
    [united with Thorpe Abbots]
  • 1560    William Walleyns……
  • 1566    John Inman presented by Robert Le Grice
  • 1582    John Richards presented by Robert Le Grice
  • 1585    Thomas Bushard presented by Robert Le Grice
  • 1587    Edward Calley presented by Nichalas Le Grice, clerk
  • 1617    William Owles presented by John Le Grice
    [united to Brockdish]

I return to the main family line it is necessary to go back to Henry Le Grys the brothe of Robert and the uncle of Christopher. Henry married Ann, daughter of Anthony Yaxley of Yaxley and was probably buried at Billingford about 1625/27.
Bloomfield records that in the chancel window of St Leonards Church, Billingford are the arms of De La Pole, Hastyngs and Valence, of Anthony Le Grys with three martlets on top and Henry Le Grice with a crescent. The arms of Henry and no doubt the Henry who married Anne Yaxley and this brother was the third son of Christopher I and a brother of Henry. Thus Henry being the second son used his fathers arms with a crescent for a difference. Henry’s wife Anne was buried in 1627 at Thelton (Thelveton) Henry and Ann had one son Charles who was baptised at Rushall in July 1584. He was a cousin of Christopher II from whom he inherited the books, swords, rapiers and apparel mentioned in the above will. It is probable he ultimately inherited the whole of his cousin’s estates, because these passed to his father Henry at Christopher’s death.

Charles’ wife Anna was buried at Thelton in 1646, and her husband died in 1634 and was buried at Billingford. There were four children of the marriage, all baptised at Thelton, Frances in 1623, Susanna 1625, John 1628 and Thomas 1631.

Frances and Susannah may have died in infancy, for nothing is known of them. John married Ann Gooch and was buried at Thelton in 1715. He was educated at Diss and Caius College, Cambridge. He became a Doctor of Physic and was buried at Billingford in 1709. The name John subsequently became very common in the family, this being the first of nine successive generations. It is therefore fitting for the purpose of this account to number the generations of John to avoid confusion.

This John I had a brother named Thomas who was baptised at Thelton in January, 1631, is reputed to have been a druggist, which is feasible having had a father who was a physician. He lived at Diss. It is not certain when he died, where he was buried or to whom he married, but his descendants continued the male line for three generations. It is possible he was buried in Shimpling, which is about one and a half miles from Thelveton and only a few miles from Diss. There was a Thomas Le Grys buried there according to the register and his brass is noteworthy because of the element of mystery surrounding it.

In the floor of the nave is a stone slab on which there is a simple brass plate affixed in a recess. The plate is ill fitting, for the recess is larger than the plate which measures only 8 1/2″x 3 1/2″. It carries the following inscription –

“Here lyeth buryed the corps
of Anthony Le Grys Gent, younger
brother to Robert and Susan his
wife: he ended this life the
20th December 1598”

Who this Anthony is not certain, but he may have been a brother of Christopher 2nd whose parents were named Robert and Susanna. If it is so, he must have died quite young. On the underside of Anthony’s brass there is reputed to be engraved this inscription –
Thomas Le Grys Gen’
Obit 27 mo Septembris
Anno Aetatis Suae 60
Annoque Dom: 1692
How it happened that the inscription for Thomas came to be engraved on a plate, which had been engraved nearly one hundred years before for Anthony, will probably remain a mystery. But the explanation of how Anthony’s side of the brass is placed uppermost, although Thomas is presumed to be buried beneath, is given in ‘Norfolk Archaeology’ Vol xv, P87.

“This plate has been in accurately re-laid so that the earlier inscription now appears. The explanation is thus given by the present rector Rev J.W. Millard- ‘The brass became loose in the time of my predecessor, Mr Harrison (about sixty years ago) when the earlier inscription was revealed, and the thinking that as Anthony had the first and best claim, replaced the brass with the earlier inscription uppermost, but it was a mistake, for according to the registers, only Thomas was buried in the church. [See communication by the Rev H E Field to the ‘Transaction of Monumental Brass Society’ Vol lll p219
” The Rev CR Manning FSA, in ‘Norfolk Archaeology’ Vol x, P202 gives the following account of the plate. There is no entry in the register of the burial of Anthony Le Grys in 1598. The brass does not fit the indent in the stone, and it is thought probable that it belonged originally to some other church.
The Le Grys family lived at Billingford and Dickleburgh. . The brass is a palimpsest and there is an entry in the burial register signed by Henry Harrison, rector 1830, stating, after recording the above, (ie the 1598 inscription) that on the reverse of the same brass, is also the underneath inscription to Thomas. (See above)
This Thomas was buried here and the entry is in the register, Thomas Le Grys, Gent, was buried Sept 28, 1692. The older brass therefore, of Anthony, brought from elsewhere was used for him”

The church at Shimpling also contains the Le Grys arms in the east window, impaling quarterly barry of ten argent and azure on a canton gules a lion passant guardant 2 and 3 azure on a fesse dancettee between three martlets or. I have been unable to identify this coat, but it is interesting to note that some of the quarterings appear in the window at Denton to which reference has been made. Before returning to the descendants of John l to follow the main line, it is interesting to follow Thomas’ line.

Thomas had a son also named Thomas who was born at Diss in 1664. He took holy orders and became rector of Homersfield. Sarah Bransbury was his wife who survived him by 20 years and died at Bungay. Her will is dated 1742. This Thomas died in1722 at Homersfield. He had four sons, Thomas, who died the same year as his father, John, Charles, and Robert. Of John more later. Charles was a merchant at Yarmouth where he was buried in 1764 at the age of 64. His wife Judeth died in 1757. There were two daughters, Margaret of Brownston Hall who died in 1788 aged 59 and Anne who married a Robert Palmer.

John referred to above became an Attorney in Norwich and died in 1737 His wife was named Judith and died in 1767. They had three children, Charles, Robert and Frances. Frances remained a spinster and died in 1788. Robert was Rector of Morton and died in 1790 at 61. Charles, the eldest, outlived the others. He was a Captain and lived at Morton Hall. His wife was Elizabeth Bladwell, reputed to be of royal descent, lived to the age of 86 and was buried at Drayton in March 1814. Charles and Elizabeth had three daughters, Judith, Elizabeth and Susanna. A memorial to Charles and Elizabeth Le Grys is to be seen still in Drayton Church on the west wall, just inside the doorway and depicts his arms. The description given by Rev Farrer FSA, in ‘Church Heraldry-Norfolk p248 is-
Quarterly gules and azure, on a bend argent three boars Passant,
sable armed or. For Charles Le Charles Le Grys, Late Morton
Hall, who died July 1st 1803, also Elizabeth his wife, who died March
! 5th 1814, aged 86.

John l, the physician and Ann his wife, both of whom have been mentioned earlier, had a son John ll. who was baptised at Thelton in 1671 and married twice. The name of his first wife is [Elizabeth} unknown but his second wife was Mary Austin. John ll had two brothers, Charles, baptised at Thelton in1672, and Thomas, baptised at Thelton in 1680. John ll lived to the age of 78 and was buried at Thelton in 1749. By his first wife, he had a son named John lll, and by his second wife Mary Austin who died in 1763, probably at Flixton but buried at Thelton, he had four daughters, Elizabeth, Ann, Eleanor and Mary.

Old John of Thelton is described in his will as a gent and was probably a farmer. He is famous for having been born in 1699, married for exactly half his life and buried in the church-yard of his baptism in 1802, having lived through a complete calendar century. His headstone is still to be seen, as well as that of his wife Mary Muskett alongside. The stone is well preserved and can be seen beside the pathway in the churchyard leading to the south porch of St Andrews the Apostle, Thelveton. Mary was buried in 1785 aged 77. Old John’s will mentions seven children, John lV, Charles who married Mary Webster, Elizabeth who married Edward Wilton, another daughter, name unknown, who married William Hart, Thomas, William and James who married Sarah Park [Peck] in1778. James was born in 1751 and died in 1826. He had a son James. Of the others nothing is known with the exception of Charles who died in 1821 and is buried behind his father in the Thelveton churchyard.

It is not possible at present to find any documentary evidence to support the following information about the next generation, but Arthur Le Grice of Long Stretton in 1959 remembered a traditional story that John lV had eight sons and one daughter Mary. He insisted she must marry a Le Grys as he wished to keep her a thoroughbred. I do not know whether or not she found a le Grys to marry. The family tree becomes a little vague at this period, but returning to Charles who married Marry Webster, he had a son, believed to be Robert [not proven and unlikely Ed] who married Sarah Reynolds. [However a Ed.] Robert and Sarah had seven children, all baptised in Little Ellingham. The eldest was Robert, baptised in 1795, Sam 1797, Jonas 1802, Charles 1804, and William 1808.

The eldest son of Robert and Mary was Charles, born at Aslacton in 1825, and married Eliza Clements in 1858. Eliza was the daughter of Charles Clements, a printer from Aylesham in Norfolk. Charles Le Grice and Eliza lived at Attleborough and is recorded in Harrod’s Directory of 1863 as trading as a grocer, tea dealer, and grocer. Charles’ brothers were Saul of Shottesham, a farmer, Robert, who according to Harrods was a miller, baker and farmer, as well as an overseer at Great Ellingham, Sam and John who married Ellen Owles from whom the Rev Stanley Le Grice was descended.

Charles and Eliza’s eldest son was Charles Clement Le Grice who became a draper at Kings Lynn and married Alice Wood, a daughter of Thomas Wood, a professional musician of Cambridge. Charles Clement Le Grice married in1890 and had nine children. Charles died in 1951 and his wife in 1953. Their memorial inscription is on a wall at St Faiths Crematorium in Norwich.

The other children of Charles and Eliza of Attleborough were Herbert, who married Eliza Watson, Fred of Sherringham, William of Nth Walsham who married Nellie Fuller, Sam of Cromer who married Gertrude Winch, and Eliza.

On Wacton Common in Norfolk there is a farm of about fifty acres called Le Grys Farm. It belonged to one John Le Grys who sold it because he was short of money. Subsequently it was bought by Arthur Le Grys of Long Stratton for his son John, but he died before he inherited it and the farm was given to Amy, John’s wife who farmed it until her death wh4en it passed to her nephew so it went from the Le Grice ownership again.

There are many descendants of Le Grys and Le Grice families still living in the county, their numbers being too numerous to mention and are outside the scope of this piece. Its purpose has been to place on record some of the results of my research with the hope that it may stimulate others to delve more deeply into the history, correcting and adding as necessary to the story of a family whose roots were planted in Norfolk some 800 years ago.
N. J. Le Grice

E & O E