At this time of the year, according to local legend, somebody in the village might well hear the ghostly sound of a horse galloping down Church Lane. The story holds that this is either Guy Fawkes or Thomas Bates, servant to Catesby, either of them hoping to escape justice by riding from London to Dover and beyond.
Whatever we believe, I'm convinced that ghost stories help to resolve tensions and mysteries in the community, and if this is so, what is the significance of Tatsfield's fleeing horseman?

With two possible contenders for the rider, we already have some basic confusion. But linking this 'ghost' to the Gunpowder Plot creates even more problems. Fawkes was in custody from 5th November 1605 to his execution, while Bates and others fled to the Midlands and were soon caught at Holbeche House in Staffs. Obviously ghosts can appear wherever they want but why should either of these turn up in Tatsfield?
Recent events, however, have brought to light aspects of village history which previously seemed to be only known to a few interested historians.

Two separate articles by Eileen Pearce, for September/October 2004 first revealed information on the three Welsh princes who were fourteenth century lords of Tatsfield Manor and then described the archaeological dig carried out that summer at the site of their original Manor House, close to the Church.
These articles do provide some background, but I'd like to recap a little and tell again the princes' story. When Edward I finally demolished Welsh resistance to invasion in 1283, apart from killing Llywelyn the Last in battle and later his brother Dafydd, he managed to buy off another brother, Rhodri, by getting him to swear allegiance in return for some land in England.

Although Rhodri did also acquire other estates around the country, that land was of course the parish of Tatsfield.
His son, Thomas ap Rhodri (also known as Thomas of Tatsfield) was probably born in the village and seems to have been a successful businessman who bought and sold land and ran a pottery near Clacketts Green. His son in turn, also perhaps Tatsfield born, was Owain ap Thomas, known as Lawgoch which means Redhand. As a young man, he moved to France where he supported Charles V against the English in the 100 Years War. He became the leader of a number of ex-patriot Welshmen who had thrown in their lot with the French and hoped to win back Welsh independence, with Owain as their prince.

However Edward III sent out a spy named Jon Lamb who, gaining Lawgoch's trust, killed him in 1378 with his own dagger.
Very soon afterwards nearly all Owain's manor houses in England were deliberately demolished by agents of the King, because Lawgoch was deemed a traitor. This included the manor, or court, at Tatsfield but the same agents found that all the land there had been parcelled off to local friends of the family, so the King gave the squiredom to the Uvedales who till then only had jurisdiction over Titsey. There are hints that Owain Lawgoch had a wife in France, but he died without issue and ever since then the two parishes have been closely linked. It is easy to imagine the dismay of the Medieval villagers to all these events. It is very likely that Thomas was a popular squire who had brought some stability to the parish. The skeletons of Thomas and his wife Cecilia are buried under the floor of the Church to this day.

What the locals thought of the young squire going off to war in France we can't say, but news of his death and then the total and wanton destruction of the Manor House, no doubt the finest building in the village, must have left many in shock. Probably there were those who wondered if his spirit would return to search for the house that was utterly swept away. This ghost had every reason to be in the village, so when witnesses first heard the sound of galloping hooves that was the obvious explanation.
We will never know for sure, of course, but I suggest that by the time of the Gunpowder Plot, local people had long forgotten the princes from Wales, so it was easy to attach a new traitor to the story though, as it turned out, a traitor with hardly any real reason to be in the village at all.

Nevertheless, such was the excitement of the times that the tale gained a new impetus which has carried it right through to modern times today.
Incidentally, one of the trusted worthies who received some of the land parcelled off by the princes was Roger de Stanyngdenn. Could this have been a distant ancestor to the Standing family, by any chance?

Recommended links

Medieval News: Tatsfield Wales Archeaological Finding

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1 comment:

  1. A fascinating retelling, Mark. So unexpected to find a Welsh link in Tatsfield and such dramatic events. And a ghostly rider as well.

    Great stuff!