A'Bear Family History

The Pre-Wargrave Years


Return to genealogy page


Tracing our family history back through medieval times and making a family tree is no simple task. Information is limited, and what is available largely concerns wealthier families. However, the National Archives hold a number of documents dating back to this early period that appear relevant to the study of our history in this period.

In the sure knowledge that the Aberes lived in Wargrave, Berkshire from about 1470 onwards, by which time they seemed well established, and that a John atte Bere was living in the district from around 1320 until at least 1413, one might start looking for other atte Beres living in England prior to this time. However this has so far thrown up very little information. The earliest references are dated around 1230 when a John atte Bere, father of an Adam de la Bere, owned Ibsley and Malshanger in Hampshire and in 1247 when a Nicholas atte Bere appeared in the Somerset Subsidy Rolls. In about 1280 a Nicholas atte Bere was living in or near Odiham, Hampshire, and in 1304 a John atte Bere of Kent or Surrey lent 4 to John de Sutton of London. Then in 1308 an Alexander atte Bere (also recorded as Alexander de la Bere) was a witness at West Membury, Devon. A Godfrey atte Bere borrowed money before the Mayor of Oxford during the period 1307 to 1327 and then in 1318 a William de la Bear & John his son granted a tenement in Okehampton, witnessed by a John atte Bere. There is little more to go on, and with only this information there are just two Johns to choose from who could have moved area in the early fourteenth century.

However, of these seven references, three involve the de la Bere surname, providing enough evidence alone to warrant looking amongst the de la Beres in search of other links. [A fuller study of this likely connection is the subject of the article Delaberes & Atteberes].

Widening the search in this way uncovers many more documents and reveals a substantial family history. It is believed that the first de la Bere came over with the Normans. In Gloucestershire the De la Beres are said to have held Southam-de-la-Bere from the time of the Conquest, but for now this remains unproved.

Whatever their pedigree, to date I have so far found only two references before the year 1200, that of a Haket de Bere who was living in Bere Hacket in Dorsetshire during the time of Henry I, that is, around 1120, and a John De la Bere who married Joan, daughter and heiress of Stephen, Lord of Hever in Kent around 1190.

Moving into the fourteenth century it is said that between 1199 and 1216 Richard de Bere was one of the Recognitores Magna Assissae for the county of Kent, and the Kentish family claim descent from this man. By 1220 Andrew de la Bere and Alice his wife, daughter and heir of Thomas de Rochford and Isabel, owned a share in Ozleworth, Gloucestershire. In 1236 Nicholas de Bere held Bere, later Bere Court near Dover, Kent, and by 1248 William de Bere had long been established in Bere, Dorset. In 1254 John de la Bere witnessed a lease of land in Warwickshire. In 1279 Simon de la Bere owned land in Downton, Wiltshire and in 1284 John le Bere and Stephen le Bere first appear in Cornwall. By 1300 de la Beres are also evident in Herefordshire and Oxfordhire. Thus they had spread over a substantial part of the South and West of the country, and up towards Central England.

That the de la Beres had wealth and status is therefore quite clear. Additionally, by 1250 William de Bere of Somerset was Lord de Bere, in 1274 and 1276 William de Bere of Kent was King's Bailiff of Dover, in 1285 Simon de la Bere of Oxfordshire had a Coat of Arms, in 1293 Simon de la Bere was a knight of Herefordshire and John de la Bere had a manor in Southwick, Hampshire. In 1299 Sir Gilbert de Bere held Wootton Fitzpane in Dorset. It seems that the de la Beres shared authority and prospered wherever they were seated, features which probably did stem back as early as the Norman Invasion and certainly continued through this period and well beyond the first documents naming Wargrave as their home.

A full list of all the documents found together with their references is attached as an aid to further research. The documents have also been summarised for quick reference and sorted into geographical groups. Splitting them up this way seems logical, but there are two slight problems with this approach: those held in high esteem by the reigning monarch were often rewarded with new areas of land and so moved on, and some references which name a person and location suggest but do not necessarily mean that the person named was living there. Nevertheless I have attempted to put together the various groups in the hope that if further information comes to light it may confirm suspected family links or enable a suitable correction to be made.

Proving that all the people named amongst these documents are related is difficult, and in any case the priority for now is not to undertake a total de la Bere family history but to ascertain which geographical group moved to Wargrave during the fourteenth century and follow it back in time. However, where wealth and power are a common factor it seems probable that the various geographical groups are related. Amongst them, though, are families carrying similar surnames such as the le Beres who may well be totally unrelated to de la Beres.

It seems that almost wherever the de la Beres or atte Beres became established, so the place name followed them. In Dorset, as we have seen, Haket de Bere was living at Bere Haket. Later at Dover, Nicholas de Bere held Bere Court and in 1283 Peter de la Bere made a gift of land in Bere Forest abutting forest called La Bere in Southwick, Hampshire. From 1278 deeds appear regarding La Beare in the manor of Brent, near Buckfast, Devon, after which the atte Beares are known to have lived not far away at La Beare which is at Aylesbeare, Devon. Before 1300 Beer Hall, in Axminster parish, belonged to Walter de la Bere, and continued in the name for several generations until Englesia, daughter of Alexander de la Bere married into the Okeston family. Later in 1408 Michael atte Beare was thought to be living at Beare near Hele, North Devon – and just half a kilometre to the southeast of Hele stands Beara Farm. One even wonders about William de Bere of Bere, Dorset. Was it named after a Saxon copse, or after the wealthy family that lived there? Certainly their name was generally important enough for them to want to make it known to all around, a characteristic which may have re-emerged in the family three hundred years later, when John Abear of Harehatch, Wargrave, declared himself to be “of the Hill” when the family home was not apparently on any prominent hill.

Thus at the turn of the 14th century records found to date show a predominance of de la Beres plus a very few atte Beres spread across the lower half of England. Amongst them was a man named John who would soon begin nearly six hundred years of family history in and around Wargrave by moving to that area. His identity is analysed in the article The First Wargrave Ancestor so is not elaborated upon here, but the first family record brings alive the unsettled history of this period.

In the Calendar of Patent Rolls for 1318, a John de la Bere was one of a gang who were recorded as trespassing and causing damage to a park belonging to the Earl of Lancaster at Ashridge in Wokingham:


"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."

One wonders why this long list of people, some of whom were Lords of the Manor, should make such an assault on Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. A study of the history of that time may well answer this question.

Firstly, in 1310 a baronial coalition compelled Edward II to consent to the appointment of a committee of twenty-one “Lords Ordainers” to share his ruling powers. After the failure of the King’s 1314 campaign against Scotland general disorder in the country followed, during which the most powerful man in the country for four years was one of these Lords Ordainers, namely Edward II’s cousin Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. In 1318 he was succeeded by a moderate group of barons who maintained a more stable government until 1321.

Secondly, the years 1315 – 1317 were the years of the European Great Famine. It began with very heavy rainfall in the spring of 1315, and continual bad weather virtually wiped out all the crops causing mass starvation in Europe, including England. High grain prices landed especially hard on the peasantry, the average life expectancy at this time being only 30 years. Even the very rich were forced to sacrifice and cut back their food consumption. It was a period marked by extreme levels of criminal activity, and though the weather improved in the summer of 1317, the effects lasted well beyond this time.

Rather than this sortie being a little boisterous fun, one can imagine that this attack was one of either utter desperation, or retaliation for how things had been handled by Thomas.

At around this time, presumably just after this event, David de la Bere was attacked in Wales by men of Henry, Earl of Lancaster. David was minister to William de Brewose, who addressed the King and Council that whilst in the service of the King in his wars, and despite prohibitions from the King and from the justice, the people of Henry de Lancaster at his and his wife’s command entered his land of Gower and robbed, wounded and killed his people against the Kings peace. Could these two incidents be related, one perhaps in retaliation for the other? Quite possibly if the two men were closely related, though they were desperate times.

For those of greater wealth and with the means to do so, the Great Famine would have been the cause of much movement about the country in search of food. So did the De la Beres migrate to Wargrave for this reason? We cannot be certain, but there are two other good reasons for a move, namely the inheritance of Berkshire land by our family around this time and the appointment of Richard de la Bere as Sheriff of Berkshire in 1318/1319.

There is no doubt that the de la Beres played their part in the wars against the Scots and French around this time. In 1301 John de la Bere was in Scotland with others and Alan Ploknet (or Plukenet), a name which brings further interest to our family history. [It is after this family that the village of Haselbury Plucknett in Somerset is named]. Alan was said to be a kinsman to Sir Richard de la Bere, implying previous illegitimacy. The Ploknets were another family of high repute and owned widespread land. Alan died heirless, and claims of inheritance were made by Richard and Alan’s second cousin Oliver Ploknet. Oliver’s bid failed when the case came to court in 1328 and Richard, already Lord of Thornton in Marnhull, Sturminster Newton and Buckland Newton in Dorset inherited land in Oxfordshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Herefordshire and Berkshire. A fuller account of this connection may be found in the article Sir Richard de la Bere & Alan Plukenet.

The involvement of another Richard de la Bere in the Battle of Crecy followed in 1346, and family tradition has it that he was knighted by the Black Prince for his valour in helping to save his life. It seems likely that Richard was closely related to our first Wargrave ancestor, and a study of the battle may be found under the article The Battle of Crecy. Also serving in that battle was John son of John de Bere who received a pardon for good service in the wars by testimony of the Earl of Arundel.

As John atte Bere settled and raised a family in Wargrave times were about to change. Edward III had come to the throne in 1327 and brought stability to the country once more. But soon the Black Death would arrive, wiping out half of the population of England, and life for the lucky survivers would change forever. With few people available to serve the wealthy, the wealthy had to learn to manage for themselves and surfdom fast disappeared. The peasants wanted a better deal – land of their own to farm and a greater sense of fairness and equality – and they soon got it. The Hundred Years War with the French would continue, but Yeoman Farmers were here to stay, amongst them the earliest descendants of our first Wargrave ancestor, John atte Bere.


*    *    *    *    *