Bergholt Sackville

This village should be called Bergholt Sackville

Jon Lander looks at the lost glories of West Bergholt’s past as Bergholt Sackville and suggests …

For some 600 years of its existence, the village we live in was known to the rest of the world as Bergholt Sackville. As late as 1910, it was still referred to by that name in legal documents. But for some reason during the 19th century, the “Sackville” part of the name was dropped and “West” was added.

And what a mistake that was. “West Bergholt” is a perfectly satisfactory name, but “Bergholt Sackville” has more of everything – more class, more distinction, more resonance, more history.

“Bergholt,” so we are told, is Anglo-Saxon for “The Wood on the Hill,” so presumably the village was named after what we now call Hillhouse Wood.

de Saukevilles Arrive

“Sackville” was the name of the Norman family who helped William of Normandy conquer England and stayed on to play a major part in the history of our country. They were also Lords of the Manor of Bergholt for 469 years.

It seems odd that the only memorial to this family of soldiers and statesmen in the village which they dominated for nearly half a millennium is the street sign on a cul-de-sac of half a dozen houses.

Founder of the dynasty was Herbrand de Saukeville – Saukeville being a little village in Normandy – a close confidante of William the Conquerer. The family remained close to the royal family for the next 500 years even though they were not always loyal to it.

The first Sackville to become Lord of the Manor of Bergholt in 1119 was Herbrand’s son Robert, who was a member of the court of King Henry I and fought for him in France. Robert was a deeply religious man and gave some of his land in Bergholt – the area known as Armoury or Almery Farm – to the monks of St John’s Abbey in Colchester. He himself became a monk there in 1137.

Absentee Landlords

Generation after generation of Sackville’s took over as Lords of Bergholt Manor, and – although many of them were absentee landlords – they played an important role in the life of the village. They appointed the Rectors of St Mary’s and, through their steward, provided employment for most of Bergholt’s residents and controlled their lives through the Manorial court.

Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn

Later Sackvilles went on to great offices of state, especially after John married Margaret Boleyn, aunt of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth.

John’s son Richard became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth and was appointed Treasurer of the Exchequer. He organised Elizabeth’s coronation and rose to considerable eminence, amassing a considerable fortune in the process.

The next Lord of the Manor of Bergholt, John’s son Thomas made his name as a poet. Later he turned his attention to politics becoming Lord High Treasurer of England in 1599. He was given the unpleasant task of telling Mary Queen of Scots she was to be beheaded.

The Village Sold

Thomas, who was made Baron Buckhurst for his services to the nation, was also the man who severed the Sackville family’s connection with our village. In 1578, he sold the Sackville property in Bergholt to Mrs Alice Dister, although for many years, the Sackvilles kept the right to appoint the Rectors of St Mary’s.

The Sackville name survives today in the de la Warr family. The present Earl de la Warr, whose family seat is Buckhurst Park, Withyham in East Sussex, is William Herbrand Sackville – carrying on the name of the founder of the dynasty.

It seems incredible that a family whose history – and what a history! – was so intertwined with that of our village should have left so little mark on it. Admittedly, they gave their name to the village for some 600 years, but then our predecessors carelessly mislaid it.

It is simple enough to change one’s surname, simply by making use of a deed poll. I wonder how one goes about changing the name of a village. Perhaps we should find out.

There’s no doubt that “Bergholt Sackville” has an historic and aristocratic ring to it. And just think how much that would add to the value of your house.

Jon Lander
Village Bulletin – Issue 87,
September 2001