The Smyth/Nevill Family

The Smyth family held Cressing Temple until just after the Civil War. The Smyths are though to have been descendants of Sir Michael Carrington, standard bearer to Richard the Lionheart. Sir John Smyth was a Baron of the Exchequer.

Soon after 1562, Mary Smyth, the widow of Sir John Smyth’s son Thomas, married Francis Harvey, who was prominent in local affairs and a Justice of the Peace. He was much troubled by poachers and his deposition against one of them has survived, stating ‘He hath for more than 20 years continually abused me and others, and yet still doth, in stealing my conies (rabbits), robbing my fish ponds and taking my partridges and pheasants …. my conies are stolen so that I have not any to serve my house, my ponds which I stocked for the providing of my house are robbed. Of my partridges and pheasants he has not left any’.

Mary Smyth had been born Mary Nevill, and her eldest son Henry assumed the surname Nevill in order to inherit the property of his maternal grandfather who was a wealthy Leicestershire landowner. This has led to a certain amount of confusion as some of the family used the name Nevill whilst others continued to be known as Smyth, and some lived at Nevill Holt in Leicestershire and others at Cressing.

By the late 16th century, there was a ‘Great House’ on the site which had been built by the Smyth family. Archaeological excavations have uncovered its cellars and drains. The walled garden was attached to the north side of it. The chapel was incorporated into the house and still functioned. It had been a condition of John Smyth’s lease of 1539 that he should find a secular priest to minister there three days a week. In 1626 it was confirmed to William Smyth by the Bishop of London, ‘providing all things were done therein according to the Book of Common Prayer’. William Smyth was the youngest brother of Henry Nevill, and whilst his elder brothers held the Leicestershire property, Cressing Temple had been settled on him. He built the Granary in 1623, and evidence suggests he carried out a major remodelling of the Great House.

Essex was for the most part staunchly Parliamentarian during the Civil War. The Smyths were amongst the minority who were Royalist supporters. Henry Nevill was ‘taken in arms against Parliament’ in 1644. He was later returned in an exchange of prisoners, and required to pay £6000 or suffer confiscation of his estates, a circumstance which prompted him to sell Cressing Temple in 1657.

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