The Book of Molesey

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1986

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'Why come ye not to Court?
To which Court?
To the King's court,
Or to Hampton Court?'
John Skelton (d1529)

From the moment in 1514 when the ambitious Wolsey determined on the construction of his showpiece palace, right on Molesey's doorstep, it was inevitable that its effect upon the neighbouring area would be considerable. At the start, experienced artisans and unskilled labourers would be required for the building work, many of whom were recruited locally, including, as the records show, stonemasons John and William Reynolds of Molesey.

When the wily Cardinal made his fruitless gesture to hand the Palace over to the King, to become Henry's favourite residence, things hotted up apace. Property was eagerly sought in the area by officers of the household, and courtiers of every description who craved a pied-a-terre within easy call of their regal master. Even the ferryman, catering for the toing and froing across the river, reaped a rich harvest.

The road system of the district altered radically when Henry acquired Oatlands, and a new thoroughfare, the present Hurst Road, was cut across Molesey's fields to provide a direct communication between the two palaces, eliminating the tedious indirect route through our two villages. Thus Molesey had one of the first by-pass roads ever to be constructed in the Kingdom.

Not that things always worked to the advantage of the locals — far from it. Having an autocratic Tudor sovereign as a near neighbour had decided drawbacks, and was to have a devastating effect on Molesey.

Henry's greatest delight was to be found in the sports of the field — stag hunting, coursing, hawking, and so on. For these purposes, Windsor Park and the hare warrens of Hampton were kept well stocked. By 1535, however, the King was growing middle aged, his weight was vast, his legs were swollen and ulcerated, he was often wracked with pain, and he could no longer bear the journey to Windsor. So, if His Majesty could not go to the sport — the Sport must come to him. A huge hunting park like Windsor was to be built around Hampton Court.

No sooner was the design conceived than its execution was put in hand. Henry secured Acts from Parliament enabling him to acquire all the lands the project required, including the Molesey manors and certain other property, which he exchanged with their owners for ex-monastic lands elsewhere. The Hampton Court Chase, as the park was called, stretched as far as Weybridge and Byfleet. It was specifically reserved for the 'nourishing, generation, and feeding of beasts of venery, and fowls of warren' for the King's sport and pleasure. To retain the deer and game within the park and to exclude marauding poachers it was necessary that the chase should have a high fence all around it. A grant, therefore, was made of £600 for 'paling, ditching, and quicksetting' of the same.

It was provided in the Act that all the same 'liberties, jurisdictions, privileges, and laws, and officers necessary for the punishment of offenders that appertain to any ancient forest in the kingdom, should also belong to this', and forest laws were harsh.

Although the rights of the residents were technically safeguarded by the Act, the new conditions caused great distress. Crops were so seriously damaged by deer that land was left uncultivated, people left the district, and houses were allowed to fall into ruin. The King in his old age was a dangerous man against whom to raise complaints, but by 1545 'certayne men of Molsay and other townes in the chase besides Hampton Court' were driven by desperation to complain of their sufferings to the Privy Council. No redress, however, was offered while Old Harry was alive, but as soon as he was dead and the boy-king Edward VI was on the throne, a further petition was launched.

This new request was brought by 'many pore men of the parishes of Walton, Waybridge, Est Molsey, West Molsey, Essher, Cobeham, and Temsditton', stating 'That by reason of ye making the late chase of Hampton Court, Forasmuch as their Comons, Meadows, and Pastures be taken in, and that all the same parishes are over laide with the Deere now increasing daily upon them, very many households be let fall down, ye families decayed and the King's liege people much diminished, the country there about in manner made desolate, over and besides that, that the King's majesty loseth yearly, diminished of his yearly revenues and rents to a great sum'. This time a commission of enquiry was set up, which recommended the disparking of the chase and the removal of the deer to Windsor, which seems to have been advised, less on grounds to relieve local distress, than on the financial loss and the enormous cost of replacing the park fence which was fast falling down.

After this recommendation had been put in hand, the villages reverted more or less to their old life again.


Cardinal Wolsey

Cardinal Wolsey, creator of Hampton Court Palace.

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace from the Molesey bank. The building of the Palace had a great effect on the development of the district.

ISBN 0 86023 251 4

The Book of Molesey was originally published by Barracuda Books, now part of Baron, publishers of heritage volumes - maritime, military, transport, sporting and local. It is made available here with the kind agreement of Radmore Birch Associates.

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A printed copy is available from:

  • Molesey Residents Association: Ernest Mallett, 20 Walton Road, East Molesey, Tel 020-8979-6446
  • Bookshop: 68, Walton Road, East Molesey 020-8224-3232
  • Molesey Library, The Forum, Walton Road, West Molesey 020-8979-6348
  • Houben's Bookshop: 2a Church Court, Richmond 020-8940-1055
  • Alternatively you may be able to get second hand copy on amazon.

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