Photo Brian Johnson

There is no reference to St. Margaret's or Thele in the Doomsday book, but by the 13th Century it had become a parish in its own right. There are mentions of a church on the same site as far back as the late 11th Century. Parts of that structure still remain, but the earliest reference to the present building is in 1271; this is that a church and some lands were given to St. Albans Abbey by the Lord of Hailey, Roger de Burun. St. Margaret's appears to have been built on reclaimed land in the parish of Great Amwell and in the manor of Hailey - apparently an attempt by Roger de Burun to create a new manor with a church separate from Hailey. At first this may seem odd, but since the manor of Hailey was in the parish of Great Amwell, Great Amwell would be collecting tithes from Hailey.It would seem that Great Amwell wouldn't relinquish these, so by creating this new manor and parish Roger could then escape the tithes by moving to his new manor. The new parish of St. Margaret's, the smallest in Hertfordshire, became Roger's new Manor of Thele and quite separate from the old manor of Hailey. The shape of the parish is such that it forms a curious small island separating the main part of the parish of Great Amwell from the manor of Hailey. It consisted of 407 acres, half of it being arable land, another third permanent grass and the rest woodland.

Although it is commonly called 'St. Margaret's' the full title is 'The Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Margaret's Thele'. The word Thele comes from the original name of the parish and manor and probably means 'island' as this area by the River Lea was known as the Isle before 1200 AD. By the twelfth Century a policy of draining the waste land by the river had made rapid changes and a bridge was built. This was called the 'Pons Tegula' or 'Bridge of Thele', and became an important crossing to Stanstead and the county of Essex to the east.

The Chapel of Saint Mary

At Saint Margarets.

A short history.

By Septimus Croft.

Church warden: Ruth Swallow

The de Burun family name disappears from the histories neal' the end of the 13th Century, suggesting that the line ended in his daughters; Margaret, wife of John Lovetot, Lucy, wife of Henry Chasepork, Alice, wife of Nicholas le Marechal and Alice, wife of William le Marchand, though by 1276 John and Margaret had acquired all the land, most likely due to surviving her sisters and their husbands. In 1281 John received a grant for a weekly fair in Thele on Thursdays and an annual fair for six days after the feast of St. John the Baptist. By 1294 Margaret had been widowed and was the sale owner and Lady of two manors, Hailey and Thele. In 1303 the manorship of Thele seems to have been held by William de Goldington for the Earl of Oxford and by 1307 Margaret had married William. In 1316, because the church was in a very poor state, William founded a college of a warden and four chaplains who were to celebrate mass for the souls of himself, Margaret, and his patron Robert de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. The chaplains were to:

"say all the hours and celebrate five masses a day, one for St. Mary, another for the day to be sung and three others for the dead to be said in a low voice and to wear black at the service."

He endowed this chantry of 5 chaplains with a messuage (a dwelling house), a carucate of land (the amount of land that could be ploughed by one plough and eight oxen in a year), eight acres of meadow, fifteen acres of woodland, £10 in rents and a pasturage for six cows and a hundred sheep. The parish being fairly poor, in 1316 Sir William (as he was by then), appointed the Custos of the college to serve as the cure. Over the following years more property was added to the parish, coming from the neighbouring parishes of Amwell, Stanstead and Hoddesdon.

In 1431, when the Warden of the College was John Howeden, William Grey, the then Bishop of London alleged that the college had been alienated through carelessness and neglect and applied to Henry VI for royal consent to dissolve the College. This was granted and the care of the property transferred to the Hospital (or Priory) at Elsing Spittle in London (founded in 1329 by Thomas Elsing in Gayspur St., London Wall). With the transfer, it was ordained that three regular canons would celebrate mass at Elsing Spittle and two at Thele.

[In 2006 we had a visit from Ann Bowtell who was' researching The Priory of Elsing Spittle in London and so wanted to see our church as part of her studies. She has now received her Doctorate on "A medieval London Hospital: Elsing Spittle 1330-1536".]

In 1536, during Henry VIII's reign, the dissolution of the monasteries caused the advowson of the church to come to the crown, thus making it a lay donative chapel. (Up to 1913 St. Margaret's could claim to rank with Westminster Abbey as being a donative, therefore the Bishop had no right of entry to the church, or to appoint the vicar.) Henry VIII granted the advowson to Roger Poten, the late prior of the Hospital. From then until 1563 the advowson was transferred many times until it came to Nicholas Baesh who settled the rectory and mansion house on his wife Dorothy and his male heirs.

In 1590/91 Edward Baesh succeeded his father, and later in 1650 after changing hands the advowsons passed back into the hande of the lords of the manor of Goldingtons. In 1651 the manor passed into the hands of Edward Lawrence, son of Col. Henry Lawrence, President of the Council of State in Cromwell's Parliament, and representative for Hertfordshire in that Parliament. When Edward died in 1657, the manor passed to his father, Henry, who survived the restoration of the monarchy because of his vote against the execution of Charles 1st. Col. Lawrence is buried in the chancel, beneath the altar, with his son and three of his daughters close by. After the death of Henry Lawrence the manorial rights passed to Thomas Westrow in 1670. Then, in 1714 the manor was conveyed to Spencer Cowper, and in 1740 to William Cowper, one of his descendants, who presented the church with a Bible and Prayer book.  In 1738/39 proceedings were taken on behalf of the Bishop of London before the Spiritual Judges in Consistory Court against the incumbent of the parish, a Mr Brittain, for contempt in disregarding the monition of the Bishop and for refusing to elect churchwardens. William defended Mr Brittain in this action and asserted his right of exemption from all jurisdiction; and the court decided in favour of the patron to the effect that his rights 'Yere well established, the chapel still being a donative. Copies of these letters still exist and can be seen framed in the Church, Rumours at the time said that the church had become a meeting place for dissenters and this could have also prompted the Bishop's action. By 1798 the patronage had transferred to Charles Cowper and in 1820 passed to his sister Mrs Frances Cecilia Pratt, who in 1790 married the Rev. Joseph Stephen Pratt, late Prebendary of Peterborough.

The Rev. Pratt came to the manor and found that the church had become a repository for any of the local farmers' unwanted equipment or goods. Being very distressed by this, the Rev. Pratt set about making amends and from around 1807 spent £800 of his own money on restoring the church, He had the gallery put in, the box pews erected, and an organ installed. He had part of the roof extended to cover the top of the North wall and installed a bellcote with weather vane and bell. The bell was cast by Bryants of Hertford in 1820. He also had the East window meticulously restored. It has been described as II an elegant and uncommon specimen of what was called the 'Decorated period' ". When he died in 1838 his son, Charles became Incumbent and in 1849 became Lord of the Manor on the death of his mother. In 1875 the Rev. Charles Lilley became vicar until his death in 1901. In 1889 the manor was bought by Septimus Croft, the Crofts being the last Lords of the Manor. In 1922 the manor was conveyed to Gilbert Colin Croft. After the death of Rev. Lilley the church closed for a short period for redecoration and was reopened on 26th May 1902. Another important part of this little church's history occurred in 1898 when an Act of Parliament was passed making every benefice with cure of souls which was donative become presentative, handing them over to the ordinary and making it part of the Anglican communion. .However, this did not affect the chapel and it remained a donative until 1913 when the Lord of the Manor and patron, Septimus Croft, Game to an agreement with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and The Queen Anne's Bounty Fund whereby  a permanent endowment of the church was established.