A'Bear Family History

Our First Wargrave Ancestor


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De la Bere / Atte Bere Tree


Firstly, here is a little general history of the medieval period, which may help to put our family records of that period into context.

From the time of the Norman Invasion of 1066, William the Conqueror had appointed Norman Barons as his ‘Tenants in Chief’ who held large swathes of land as long as they continued to provide him with soldiers. The Barons also sub-let parts of their territories to lesser nobles and knights in return for military service. The Normans held on to the Saxon “Hundreds” but they carved up the land into Manors, each with its Norman Lord. On these, three distinct grades of peasants lived and worked according to a rigid pecking order. In order of priority these were the villains, the bordars and the slaves. Villains and bordars worked the Lord’s land in return for a small amount to farm for themselves, whilst slaves had no lands or rights and could be bought or sold at will. They could all be called upon to fight as foot soldiers whenever needed. The low point in this respect was about 1140, but by about 1150 milder weather and improved tools led to an improvement in the standard of living with lands opening up and more food becoming available. By the early 1200s peasants were finding ways to deal with the hardships of life, as the village church provided a moral anchor for their lives and the manorial courts became venues to challenge feudal regulations. By now the barons had lost their land abroad and were forced to accept England as their home. Their claim for new lands and rights meant that the feudal system came under pressure, with matters coming to a head with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1214. As trade links with France and Flanders became established, the nobility now took more interest in their land and productivity, but the well established principle of Lords being served upon by peasants would continue for a long while yet.

The turn of the fourteenth century was still a time of social division. Rich families had built up quite large estates and thus the medieval landlords still ruled the unfree population with disdain. Such people often had to walk miles to work their rented strip of land on the outer reaches of the village but had to work the landlord’s land too, thus labouring to feed their betters as well as themselves. By this time, however, money was in circulation, and peasants could rent a stall in an open market and sell any surplus food they had grown. This was their first step towards freedom, for money meant social mobility - it bought peasants property, education and literacy, and shaped the class system. 

It was, though, also a time of peak pressure on landed resources in England, for the population had by now swollen from two million to six million. Thus acquiring land remained difficult, and ill will persisted between peasants and landlords. The years of 1315 and 1316 then saw catastrophic climate change and the Great Famine. A pattern of wet summers and frozen winters led to starvation then disease and pestilence. Valleys were flooded, fields were flattened and crops ruined. Merchants travelled from far and wide trying to buy up the last precious supplies of grain. As food supplies ran out, parcels of land and then cattle were sold off. Grain prices increased seven times and, with no money left, tenancies had to be surrendered. As a result, by 1319 ten percent of the population had died of starvation or disease such as typhoid. Of the poorer folk, those who survived did so mostly by having the skill to manage any remaining resources effectively. As if this was not enough, there followed a great pestilence of livestock - a virus that raged out of control and forced further ruin upon the lucky survivors as the oxen, the cows and the calves fell dead to the ground.

In the wake of all this, 1327 saw the King raise a poll tax on all freeholders thereby endorsing the class division that then existed. Whilst peasants were taxed only pence, major freeholders had to pay three times as much. With peasants wanting a fairer deal, social change was ‘in the air’, but only really came about after the Black Death of 1349 which wiped out nearly half the remaining population and caused labour to become the premium, thereby giving the peasants the bargaining power they had craved for so long.


Returning to our own family history, we know the atte Beres and/or de la Beres were certainly in and around Wargrave between 1318 and 1341, and what a story they would have to tell of the troublesome and changing world around them, and those desperate years of disease and famine.

Following on from our exploration of atte Beres and de la Beres, and accepting that the names could sometimes be interchanged, let us now consider our first Wargrave ancestor, and how he came to arrive and remain in Wargrave.

Firstly, the five Wargrave references around the supposed time of arrival are repeated below for convenience and read as follows:


"York, December 5th, 1318 - Commission of oyer and terminer to William de Hardene and John  Inge, by oath of good men of the county of Wiltshire, on complaint by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, that Geoffrey atte Beche, John Pippard, Peter de Waltham, John Lammar, Adam de Waltham, Adam the Younge, Robert le Yem, John de Yevendon, Richard de la Chaumber, William Turry, Richard atte Hegge of Waltham, John le Bercher of Hurley, Robert de Lullebrok and John de la Bere of Wargrave, with others, broke his park at Ashridge, cut his corn growing there, and consumed and trampled it down."

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 "23rd June 1325 at Easthampstead - Henry de Langburwe, parson of Warplesgrave to Master Alexander de Neuport, parson of Warfield.
Grant of a tenement with buildings, land, etc., which Henry de Langburwe, parson of Warplesgrave, had of the gift of Richard Clark called le Carpenter of Bray.
Warranty against all people.
. Witnesses: Robert de Waltham, William de Newenham, Henry Batayl, Henry de Penkeneye; Roger de Wodemancote, John atte Bere, Richard Aylward, William atte Halle, Robert atte Lak, Master Thomas Cook of Easthampstead, William le Coterel of Easthampstead, Richard Clerk called le Carpenter of Bray"

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1340 "John Atte Bere, John Atte Wydegate, Rob Wepestrode, John Dyton, John Atte Frythe, Philip Galant, of the Parish of Wargrave, sworn before the Prior of Wallingford and his fellows, say, upon their oath, that the ninth of the fleeces of the lambs, and of the sheaves (garbs) of the aforesaid Vill granted to the Lord the King are worth what they are valued at to the Church of Wargrave, that is to say eighteen marks [twelve pounds], and they do not exceed this because a great part of the lands of the parishioners of the said Vill lies uncultivated in consequence of the pauperisation of the aforesaid parishioners, and because there are great expenses in the autumn In collecting the sheaves, and because the land and wool and meadow and pasture belong to the Vicar, and also the small tithes which have to be offered, and the Mortuary fees. And the tythes of hay of the said vill amount per annum, to 10. which profits indeed run over the extent of the said church. In testimony whereof the aforesaid Prior and. the Aforesaid Jury have severally affixed their seals to the present indenture."


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"Westminster, October 2nd 1341 - It is recorded that John de la Bere of Wargrave acknowledges that he owes to Agnes de la Bere, his daughter, 20; to be levied, in default of payment, of his land and chattels in the county of Berkshire."

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Feet of Fines:

CP 25/1/20/98, number 14.

County: Buckinghamshire.

Place:  Westminster.

Date:  The day after All Souls, 41 Edward III [3 November 1367].

Parties:  John Nothurst, chaplain, and John atte Bere of Wergraue, querents, by Thomas Hynden', put in the place of John Nothurst, and Robert de Nansele and Julian, his wife, deforciants.

Property:  1 messuage, 1 mill, 1 carucate of land, 12 acres of meadow, 10 acres of pasture and 20 shillings of rent in Chalueye.

Action:  Plea of covenant.

Agreement:  Robert and Julian have acknowledged the tenements to be the right of John Nothurst, and have remised and quitclaimed them from themselves and the heirs of Julian to John and John and the heirs of John Nothurst for ever.

Warranty:  Warranty.

For this:  John and John have given them 100 marks of silver.

Standardised forms of names. (These are tentative suggestions, intended only as a finding aid.)

Persons: John Nuthurst, John atte Bere, Thomas Hinden, Robert de Nansele, Julian de Nansele

Places:  Wargrave (in Berkshire), Chalvey (in Upton-cum-Chalvey, Buckinghamshire)

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To begin with, let us explore the possibility that our family was already living in Wargrave prior to the fourteenth century, having descended from a long line of villain atte Beres who, over many years, had developed good farming and husbandry skills and served the Lord of the Manor loyally. Being fortunate enough to farm a fertile and well located strip of land, they survived the great famine of 1317 and 1318, providing much needed food at that time not only for the Manor but perhaps the community as well, later earning their freedom as yeoman farmers more from the respect they earned as from the Lord of the Manor’s ultimate surrender due to the shortage of labour that followed the Black Death. Such a notion does have a ring of truth about it, for the atte Beres ownership of land in Harehatch dates back with certainty to around 1450 - good arable and pastoral ground located well above the flood plain of the River Thames, and on the outskirts of the village away from the Manor in an area where a villain may well have worked a strip of land to feed his family.

However, we can only believe this to be true if we can make sense of the known family references of the time. The 1340 Nonarum Inquisitonum, recorded twenty-three years after the famine, seems to suggest that John atte Bere was, by then, one of an already established community of local sheep farmers. On the face of it, 1340 seems a little early for this to be possible, but by this time it seems true that some Freemen had evolved. They were legally privileged men who owned their own land with the Lord of the Manor’s consent, and their privileges included placing their sons in the Church or the Army. However, can we equally believe that only a year later, named as John de la Bere, he appears to be a very wealthy man? Likewise, that as early as the time of the famine itself the same man rode out with others to trample the Earl of Lancaster’s crops? On the face of it, neither reference really seems to fit his identity as a farmer, and one wonders if we could be looking at two different people with different statuses here, who may be closely or distantly related, or even totally unrelated.

There being no known references earlier than 1318, it seems reasonable to suppose that the wealthy de la Beres did not arrive in Wargrave much before this time, for they would have left their mark, whilst the lowlier atte Beres left no records of family activity prior to this year because of their lack of any status.

Developing this notion, we then have to believe that it was a coincidence that the long-established atte Beres and newly arrived de la Beres found themselves in the same place at the same time, perhaps even distinguishing themselves with different surnames. But the fact that they also had the same forenames taken together with good evidence to endorse the notion that recorded surnames were interchangeable supports the likelihood that there was a close family link between them, perhaps even a father and son relationship. This being the case, one has to find a reason for such disparity between the statuses of each person. One explanation could be that whilst John atte Bere (senior) remained farming in Wargrave, his son John was called upon to fight for the King, perhaps in Scotland in 1301, was honoured for his valour, and later returned with wealth and newly-acquired status to resettle in Wargrave, where he was acknowledged as John de la Bere of Wargrave in 1318 and then again - either him or perhaps his son - in 1341. His surname must have reverted to atte Bere thereafter, perhaps as he himself had no sons, but this seems correct whatever the truth, for there are no known records of de la Beres in Wargrave later than this year. The upshot of this proposal is that the atte Beres of Wargrave would not have been direct descendants of the Norman de la Bere family, in fact they would be totally unrelated to them unless a de la Bere had somehow previously moved to Wargrave and, being local, subsequently adopted the atte Bere surname.

On the basis that social division still played a significant role at this time, the likelihood of a ‘rags to riches’ story ever being true seems somewhat unlikely and is put aside until any real supporting evidence comes to light.


Let us now explore the notion that there were no atte Beres or de la Beres living in Wargrave much before the first known record of 1318, and we begin again with the assumption that the references concern the same man.

Taking the four references together, John seems to have had status and wealth. He had status because in 1318 he had the audacity to ride with others and trample the Earl’s crops. Raiding the land of the outgoing but effective ruler of the country would have been a very serious offence, and ordinary village folk would have been risking their necks. He had wealth because he owed 20 to his daughter in 1341, about 40,000 at the time of writing, and later in 1367 he had 100 marks of silver at his disposal. It is also fair to say that in those days status and wealth usually went hand in hand.

Secondly, John had to have a reason for moving to a new area and then staying there. All land was still owned by the ruling monarch at this time, and was granted as a reward for loyal service to the King.


We are now ready to consider the possible candidates for John, taken from those known to be living during the period 1300 to 1350.

We can discount John atte Bere of Ibsley, Hampshire, born about 1300 and deceased in 1360. The dates fit well, but we know from the 1360 record that his only son Thomas died in 1362 and was the last of his line.

In 1304 there is a record of a John atte Bere of Kent or Surrey lending 4 to John de Sutton of London. Then there is John de la Bere who appears in deeds between 1308 and 1319 involved in witnessing the warranty and deeds of Charlwood, Surrey, {near Gatwick Airport on the Kent/Surrey border}. Later in 1332 a John atte Bere appears in the Surrey Subsidy Rolls and in 1334 a John atte Bere is listed in the Kent Lay Subsidy Rolls as living in Brasted, about twenty miles from Charlwood. All four records could relate to the same person and is discounted because he seems well established in this area around the time of 1318 and 1325.

From 1307 to 1317 there are records of a John le Bere, a merchant of Nottingham, witnessing grants and loans. It is doubtful he is a member of the family and altogether seems an unlikely candidate.

In 1316/1317 a John de la Bare lately owned a messuage in the parish of St Mary, Rotherhithe, London. No other information has been found.

In 1333 John atte Bere and others witness a grant at New Sarum, Wiltshire. No other information has been found.

John de la Bere (c1316 – c1350) was second son of Sir Richard de la Bere, Lord of Thornton in Dorset. This family group is established in the article The Alan Plukenet Connection, in which it is clear that Sir Richard inherited Alan Plukenet’s estates by 1328. Amongst these estates were lands in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Taking his year of birth as anywhere near correct, this John could not have been the John named in the first two Wargrave records as he was too young at the time. 

We now consider Sir John de la Bere, Lord of Woebly, son of Richard de la Bere.

It is clear from established records that John’s father, Richard de la Bere, was born about 1280, his family home being Stretford Manor in Herefordshire. By 1317 this Richard was clearly collecting taxes in Shiplake barely a mile away from Wargrave, and in 1318 he was made Sheriff of Berkshire (and Oxfordshire, as 14th century sheriffs were sheriffs of both counties). The Delabere Family Tree shows his son John to be born about 1298.

John is named in the following records:

Ref: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~hwbradley/aqwg1727.htm#30627

John de la BERE was born 1302 in Marcose, Glamorgan, Wales. He died 1380 in Marcose, Glamorgan, Wales. John married Agnes de TURBERVILLE in 1324 in Marcose, Glamorgan, Wales.

Agnes de TURBERVILLE was born 1306 in Coity, Glamorgan, Wales. She married John de la BERE in 1324 in Marcose, Glamorgan, Wales.

Ref: http://members.tripod.com/~Bonestwo/Coyty_Turberville_Family.htm

Coyty Turberville Family

9. Agnes (Ann) Turberville b. Coyty Castle, d. at Weobley, m. John de la Bere, Sir, Lord of Weobley.

Ref: www.1066.co.nz which details the Battle Abbey Roll states under the heading Delabere:

 …and in the following generation Sir John de la Bere married Agnes, the granddaughter and co-heiress of Sir Gilbert de Turbeville

[It is worth noting that this last reference discounts any notion that part of the Turberville estates lay in Wargrave, as John arrived there six years before their marriage].

We cannot rely entirely on the dates quoted in the above references for John and Agnes, as they appear in contributory databases where dates are often made to fit around other dates. David Nash Ford’s estimate of John’s birth year is 1298, and he states he died in 1388 making him ninety years of age at his death. He adds that his son, however, is supposed to have lived to the age of 100.

The timeframe for this man just about fits the Wargrave records. In 1318 John was sixteen (or twenty), so could have joined in with the crop incident. By 1325 he was married and, though established in Wales, witnessed a deed at Easthampstead. By 1340 he had a teenage family but happened to be jn Wargrave at the time when he signed the Nonarum Inquisitonum. A year later in 1341, John’s daughter Agnes was owed 20. Even as the eldest child Agnes could have been barely sixteen, but it is conceivable she was betrothed whilst still young and promised 20 as a dowry upon her marriage. In 1346 just after the Battle of Crecy took place, a pardon was given to a John, son of John de Bere. It would have been possible for Sir John to have raised a son aged about twenty years by this time who fought in the battle. Additionally, a second son named Richard could also have fought at Crecy and been knighted for his bravery.

However, according to the 1318 crop incident record John was “of Wargrave” six years before he married his wife Agnes. It is clear that Woebly was their home, so it hardly seems likely that they were established in Wargrave and raising a family there. We would therefore have to take the phrase “of Wargrave” to mean “in Wargrave at the time”. If this is all correct, it seems likely a son named John must have taken up residence there on a permanent basis later on, thereby continuing the family name within the village. In fact, Coyty Castle remained in the de la Bere family until about 1411 when, following a dispute over rightful inheritance, the Glamorganshire lands were partitioned by a descendant named Thomas de la Bere,. Hence, despite the 1367 John atte Bere of Wargrave record (which concerns property in Buckinghamshire), it may well be that Wargrave did not become the family’s sole home until the fifteenth century. So far, no other Wargrave records have come to light in this interim period, and one might expect Sir John’s descendants to have left their mark in some way if they were living there permanently. In 1435 a John Delabere, clerk, was granted the manor of Clifton Hampden about twenty miles from Wargrave. Perhaps this ties in with a move from Wales to Berkshire soon after their Welsh seat was lost?

The final John known to be living around the time of the Wargrave records is John de la Bere (c1282 - >1366), son of a William de la Bear. We know he was involved in the grant of a tenement in Okehampton, Devon in 1318 when a John atte Bere was also mentioned as a witness:




Okehampton Borough, Devon


FILE - Devon Record Office - ref. 3248A-0/11/19 - date: 1318



1 William de la Bear

2 John, his son

Premises: One tenement in Okehampton

Witnesses: John Caddyng, reeve, Roger Bonclerk, Thomas Cole, John atte Beare, Nicholas Cole, serjeant?

It seems he appears again in 1339/1340 as John atte Bere when he retains land in Tavistock, Devon (about 18 miles south of Okehampton) by which time he had married Joan:

Item details C 143/248/4    

Context : quick reference  

C  Records created, acquired, and inherited by Chancery, and also of the Wardrobe, Royal Household, Exchequer and various commissions

Division within C  Records of the Chancery as central secretariat

C 143  Chancery: Inquisitions Ad Quod Damnum, Henry III to Richard III

C 143/248  Inquisitions taken as a result of applications to the Crown for licences to alienate land.

Record Summary

Scope and content John atte Beare and Joan his wife to retain a messuage and land in Tavistock acquired by the said Joan, Walter le Cok, and Ellen his wife from William Martyn to themselves and the heirs of the said Joan. Devon.

Covering dates 13 EDWARD III. (1339 - 1340)

Availability Open Document, Open Description, Normal Closure before FOI Act: 30 years 

Held by The National Archives, Kew 

It is curious how the years of 1318 and 1340 also tie up with the Wargrave record dates.

Do we know anything of John’s family? Confining our search to Devon, William atte Beare in 1342 grants La Beare in Devon to Joan atte Ford. A 1343 record states that La Beare is at Speavieheighs(?), Aylesbeare, Devon. [Aylesbeare is about six miles east of Exeter]. In 1346 William atte Beare of Devon is declared to owe money and in 1348 William atte Bear grants to Sir John de Raleigh, Aylesbeare, Devon. Finally, in 1363 William atte Beard, father of Joan Golde of Cullompton, (about 15 miles north of Aylesbeare), grants to John Clerk tenement at La Beare, Aylesbeare, Devon.

It does not seem likely that all these William atte Beares and William de la Bear are the same man as the time frame is rather too long, but perhaps William atte Bear was the son of William de la Bear. We know a William de Bere was knight of the shire for Somerset in 1300. (Ref: The Battle Abbey Roll www.1066.co.nz). Interestingly, he dealt with the warranty of a tenement at Langport, Somerset, concerning Sir Alan de Plukenet (father of Alan Plukenet mentioned above) before Sir Alan’s death in 1298. It remains to be proved, however, that these two Williams were the same person.

We also know from a 1292 reference that William de Bere was the son and heir of Peter de Bere (c1230 – c1290):


E  Records of the Exchequer, and its related bodies, with those of the Office of First Fruits and Tenths, and the Court of Augmentations

Division within E  Records of the Court of Augmentations and the Augmentation Office

E 326  Exchequer: Augmentation Office: Ancient Deeds, Series B

Record Summary

Scope and content Parties: William de Bere, son and heir of Peter de Bere & Peter Vallet, chaplain, and Robert de Bytescumbe; Place or Subject: Cannington (Canyngton). County: [Som]

Covering dates 20 Edw I ( 1292)

Availability Open Document, Open Description, Normal Closure before FOI Act: 30 years 

Held by The National Archives, Kew

Peter held his land in La Bere under Porchester Castle, but, for some reason or other, had it seized by the King and given to Roger Le Conner and his son. (Ref: The Battle Abbey Roll www.1066.co.nz). In 1283/1285 Peter also made a gift of land in Bere Forest abutting a forest called La Bere in Southwick, Hampshire to Richard Gervays. 

Unfortunately it seems wrong that John’s brother was Sir Richard de la Bere, Lord of Thornton who, by 1328, had inherited Alan’s estates which included Berkshire and Oxfordshire land, for Sir Richard’s father was another Richard not a William. But they may still have been related and so known to each other.

If connections can be proved, we have here a prime candidate for our Wargrave man. He could have fought in Scotland alongside Richard de la Bere and Alan de Plokenet against the Scots as a young man in 1301, left Okehampton in Somerset for Berkshire in 1318 in his thirties at the peak of the famine as overseer of Richard’s newly inherited lands (since Richard was too busy with his own lands and his own family were still young), rampaging the Earl of Lancaster’s estate to assert his authority. He could have settled at Wargrave by 1325, and raised a family with his wife Joan including a daughter Agnes who perhaps came of age or married in 1341 and to whom he had promised money. He probably had a son too, who continued farming the area and was given the forename John for this newly established Wargrave branch. This John, son of John, could even have been the man pardoned for his action in the Battle of Crecy.

A further refinement to this suggestion is that the four Wargrave references could relate to father, John de la Bere and his son John atte Bere who came of age by 1325, and was named differently to avoid confusion between the two of them. The sequence of events would then run as follows:

c1282   John de la Bere born

c1302   John de la Bere married

c1303   Son John atte Bere born

1318    John de la Bere visits Wargrave & is involved in the crop incident.

1318    John de la Bere & father William grant a tenement in Okehampton, Devon, witnessed by son John Atte Bere                                                                   

1325     Son John atte Bere farms land & witnesses a deed in nearby Warfield

c1330   Son John atte Bere  marries Joan

1339     Son John atte Bere & wife Joan retain land in Tavistock

1340     Son John atte Bere signs Nonarum Inquisitonum

1341     Father John de la Bere owes daughter Agnes money

1346    Son John pardoned for action in the Battle of Crecy


I have to confess that more work needs to be done on establishing family links with this proposal.

In conclusion, there are only really two known Johns who had the means to become the first established Wargrave ancestor in Wargrave.

That it was Sir John de la Bere, Lord of Woebly, son of Richard de la Bere of Stretford Manor, Herefordshire, seems quite probable, though it seems doubtful he or his son would have spent much time in Wargrave as Woebly was their main home.

That is was John atte Bere son of William de la Bere of Devon needs further research, but ties in well with dates and the notion that we were established within the village community from the time of the earliest Wargrave references.



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