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A Brief History of the Cracroft Family

I first remember being aware of my mother's family, the Cracrofts, when I used to ask her about her father, my grandfather, who died in 1957 when I was in my sixth year. His history seemed very exciting.....a young man forced to shrift for himself from an early age, a wicked step-father and a lost inheritance. Little did I realise then that much of this was true and I would eventually find myself connected with one of the oldest families in the country carrying one of the rarest of surnames.

So let's start with the simplest of questions: Who were the Cracrofts? Where did they come from? and then go on to look at how the family has spread across Lincolnshire, to Yorkshire, Worcestershire, London and Kent, and then then beyond our coasts to New England, Utah and the Antipodes.

Section 1:  The Domesday Book

We first of all need to go back to 1086, twenty years after William the Conqueror's successful invasion and conquest of England.  When the new king took council with his advisors, disputes about landholdings were continually disrupting the collection of taxes, and the Norman principle of feudal obligation was not always recognized by William's new and often rambunctious subjects.  So during 1086, Royal Commissioners were sent out to every shire with a long list of questions:  who had owned this manor before, and who owned it now?  Where was the meadow, and who fished in the eel pond?  How many men did this town supply for the king's ships, and how many horses for his army?  There were local agreements to be recorded, too:  so much honey for the Abbott, so many herrings for the castle, gold embroidery lessons for the Sheriff's daughter.

One of the largest landholders in Lincolnshire at that time was Gilbert de Gant (or Gaunt),  A close relative of the Conqueror, he was granted large areas of Lincolnshire, centred on his castle at Folkingham.  He also had extensive holdings in other counties.  Referring to his holdings in Well, a village just south of Alford and less than ten miles from the Lincolnshire coast, the Domesday Book says:

In Welle Tonne [the former tenant] had 1 carucate of land [assessed] to the geld.  There is land for 3 teams.  Ragemar, Gilbert's man, has 2 teams there [in demesne], and 4 sokemen on (de) 2 bovates of this land and 12 villeins with 1 team, and 1 mill rendering 15 shillings, and 1 1/2 acres of meadow, and 22 acres of woodland.  T.R.E. it was worth 8 pounds:  now 7 pounds.

Ragemar also held land from Gilbert in Claxby St Andrew and Withern.  All these properties were in the "wapentake", a local area, of Calcewath.  A generation later the Lindsey Survey, written in the time of King Henry I, records that in the Wapentake of Calcewath "Walter de Ganto [holds] 18 carucates and 4 bovates, and of these the sons of Ragemar hold 14 carucates".

Section 2: Walter de Cracroft, first bearer of the name

We have no knowledge of Ragemar earlier than 1086.  Gilbert de Gant was the second son of Robert de Gant, lord of Alost in France, and was one of those in charge of York in 1068.  Ragemar's name is of Norse or Norman origin and more than likely he came to England with his master either during or shortly after the Conquest.  Ragemar's eldest son was called Walter, and his sons were William and Humphrey.  William son of Walter married a grand-daughter of Gilbert de Gant, and it was his son who first took the surname "de Welle", after his principal property.  He was the direct ancestor of the great baronial family of de Welle, who held a barony by writ from 1299 and a viscountcy from 1486.

Meanwhile the younger son, Humphrey son of Walter, had married Alice, daughter of Gilbert de Lekeburne, a tenant in chief of the King.  He and Alice had four sons (Walter, Richard, Thomas and Harold) and three daughters.  Walter, although the eldest son, was obviously something of a ne'er-do-well, as in 1202 he was described as having "wasted his inheritance".  However, Walter was the first to take the surname "de Cracroft" from his manor house.  "Cracroft" means "the place of crows", and the property, part of the vast de Gant holdings, was situated in the south part of the parish of Hogsthorpe, a few miles south-west of Skegness.  Cracroft was one of several manor houses in the parish.  We have no idea of the size of the manor house, all that remains being a few small grass covered humps in a field running along the north side of Crawcraft Lane.

Walter de Cracroft followed his superior landlord, another Gilbert de Gant, as an opponent of the Crown and supporter of the de Montforts.  In 1248 he was regarded as an enemy of the King, as the Patent Rolls for that year record:

Remission to Alice late the wife of Richard de Langwath, who was hanged of the king's suit for receiving Walter de Cracroft and his fellows, whereof she was found guilty by verdict of the country, on account of which judgement of hanging was given against her, and the hanging was deferred because she was pregnant;  and grant that she may dwell safely in his land.

Section 3: The Medieval Cracrofts

The de Gants were great benefactors of monasteries, particularly Bridlington in Yorkshire and Bardney in Lincolnshire, both of which they had founded.  In one of their periodic grants to these foundations they had given the manor of Cracroft to the Abbey of Bardney.  Consequently on 12 November 1256 Stephen de Cracroft, Walter's son, did homage to the Abbot of Bardney for 48 acres of land in Hogsthorpe.  Although they held other land from their de Welle cousins by knight service, the advantage to the Cracrofts of holding their principal property, modest though it was, by scutage, or "shield rent" (in this case the princely sum of 4 shillings a year!), was that they never had to go to war in the train of their feudal superior, and could sit quietly in their Lincolnshire property, doing their proper part as upper class landholders in the public life of the county, but avoiding the harsh financial penalties, not to say executions, that could be inflicted on those who backed the losing side in the factional wars that were so prevalent in the medieval period.

In 1351 Robert de Cracroft, grandson of Stephen, died leaving an under-age heir, John.  Robert had held 6 acres of pasture-land from his distant cousin, Adam de Welle, 3rd Baron Welles.  On his death an inquisition post mortem was held to establish that John was his heir:

Writ to the Escheator in the County of Lincoln to enquire as to the land and heir of Robert de Cracroft, who held of the heir of Adam de Welle, a minor in the King's warship.  (Dated) 2 October 32 Edward III (1359).

LINCOLN.  Inquisition taken at Lincoln on Friday in Easter Week 32 Edward III.

Hoggesthorp.  6 acres pasture held of the heir of Adam de Welle by knight's service, who held of the fee of Gilbert de Gaunt by knight's service, and the heirs of Gilbert held of the king in chief by knight's service.  Since the death of the said Robert the king has been in possession of the premises and the issues have been received by the Escheator from year to year, who let the premises to the best advantage.  He died on 2 August 23 Edward III.  John, his son, aged 24 years and more, is his heir.

When a tenant of land died and there was no common law heir, or if the heir was a minor, or if the heir had forfeited his right on account of a felony, the land escheated (i.e. reverted) to the immediate lord.  Escheators were the royal officials who, with their deputies, usually held jurisdiction over one or more counties, and were responsible for effecting escheats of land held of the king.  On the death of tenant  the escheator called an enquiry entitled inquisition post mortem, with a local jury, to ascertain what lands the deceased had held and who was the heir.  He was also responsible for wardship and the administration of Crown lands in his area.

The jury statements that accompany this particular inquisition post mortem offer a delightful vignette into 14th century rural life:

Peter de Beseby, aged 48 years and more, says that the said John was 24 years old on 13 March 33 Edward III, for he was born at Hoggesthorp and baptized in the church there on 13 March 9 Edward III;  and this he knows because John de Beseby, his father, was godfather and caused this to be written in the missal of the church of Hoggesthorp.

Robert de Alford, aged 33 years and more, agrees and says that on Maundy Thursday after the birth of the said John, John de Alford, chaplain, Robert's brother, celebrated his first mass at Alford, as it is written in a book bequeathed to him by the said John.

Philip de Thoresthorp, aged 46 years and more, and Richard de Billesby, aged 36 years and more, agree and say that at Ascensiontide after the birth of the said John the said Philip and Eudo de Billesby, father of the said Richard, went on pilgrimage to Canterbury in the company of Robert de Cracroft, father of the aforesaid John, to St Thomas, in fulfilment of a vow on account of danger in coming from assizes at Lincoln in thunder and lightening, from which they were in fear of death.

William Ward of Thurlby, aged 58 years and more, agrees and says that his son William was born at Thurlby and baptized in the church there at the feast of Saints Philip and James next after the birth of the said John.

Thomas de Tharlesthorp, aged 37 years and more, and Robert Alisonson of Trusthorp, aged 52 years and more, agree and say that at the feast of St Hilary before the birth of the said John the belfry at Hotoft fell.

Thomas Sarjant of Alford, aged 34 years and more, agrees and says that on the Wednesday after the Invention of the Holy Cross following the birth of the said John died Alice, mother of the said Thomas, whose death is written in the Kalandar of the Black Antiphoner there.

Philip Clerc of Hoggesthorp, aged 60 years and more, John, son of William of the same, aged 42 years and more, and John Serjant of Malteby, aged 40 years and more, agree and say that about the feast of St Peter-on-Chains after the birth of the said John there was a great inundation of se-water, which burst out and broke the sea walls at Malberthorp and along the coast near and drowned the crops and sheep of divers men of the country round and lasted for two days and more.

Richard de Dalby, aged 31 years and more, agrees and says that Cecily his sister was professed a nun at Greenfield Priory on the Sunday after St John-at-the-Latin-Gate after the birth of the said John.

For some reason or other Walter de Kelby, the escheator in Lincolnshire, was reluctant to hand the land over to land to John de Cracroft.  On 17 March 1362 a stern order was issued by the Royal chancery at Westminster:

To Walter de Kelby, escheator in Lincolnshire.  Order not to intermeddle further with 6 acres of pasture in Hoggestorp, taken into the king's hands by reason of the death of Robert de Cracroft, and of the nonage of the heir of Adam de Welle, tenant in chief;  as it was found by Inquisition taken by the escheator, that Robert at his death held that pasture as his demesne as of fee of the said heir by knight service, that he died on 2 August in the 24th year of the reign, that answer has been made for the issues thereof by the escheator for the time being, and that John son of Robert is the next heir and of full age;  and on 27 August in the 20th year of the reign John son and heir of Adam proved his age, and the king respited his homage for the lands which his father held in chief, and ordered livery to be given to him.

The Cracrofts continued to play their part in the ordering of the county.  In 1395 John de Cracroft's second son, Thomas, was appointed King's Alnager and collector of the subsidy on cloths for sale in the Parts of Holland except for the City of Lincoln.  He was based at Boston, then a major port for the exporting of wool to the Continent.  The alnager had to test the quality of woollen goods passing through the port.  His nephew, William Cracroft, was appointed Collector of Taxes for the Parts of Lindsey except the City of Lincoln, in 1432.

Section 4: The End of the Middle Ages - the family starts to branch out

The family gradually increased their landholdings until by 1517 Henry Cracroft "of Cracroft Hall", was shown in his inquisition post mortem as holding land in Ingoldmells, Winthorpe, Welton, Theddlethorpe, Stickney and Horsington, as well as the manor of Cracroft in Hoggesthorpe.  By the mid 1500's the family had split into three distinct branches:  the senior line at Cracroft Hall, a second line at Ingoldmells and Winthorpe, and a third line at Burgh-le-Marsh.

The Cracrofts of Cracroft Hall

The main line at Cracroft Hall prospered in the sixteenth century.  In 1564 Richard Cracroft recorded his pedigree and arms in the Heralds' Visitation in that year and thereby established his status as a gentleman and a member of the "gentility".  His grandson, another Richard, was the last Cracroft to live at Cracroft Hall.  He had no children by his wife, Elizabeth Pepys, and died sometime after 1634.  In 1656 the manor of Cracroft Hall was in the possession of Sir Ralph Maddison, who left it in his will to his son Humphrey Maddison and grandson Ralph Maddison.  The subsequent history of the manor is not clear, but it eventually came to be part of the Hollywell estate which is owned by the Birch-Reynardson family.

The Cracrofts of Hackthorn Hall

The second line was founded by Richard Cracroft, a younger son of John Cracroft of Cracroft Hall.  In 1508 the manor of Ingoldmells was granted to him by the Crown as was the manor of Candlesby.  Two of his grandsons made advantageous marriages which vastly increased the influence of the family in the affairs of the county.

In about 1555 Francis Cracroft, son and heir of his first son John, married Katherine Grantham, daughter of Hugh Grantham, of Dunholme, but, more importantly, sister and in her issue principal coheiress of Robert Grantham, of the Black Monks, near Lincoln.  The Granthams were a prosperous merchant family in Lincoln, frequently serving as Mayor, Sheriff or Member of Parliament for that city.  Francis's son, John, inherited the Hackthorn estate from his uncle in 1618, where this branch of the family has lived ever since.  Robert Cracroft, of Hackthorn Hall, married in 1814 Augusta Ingilby, 2nd daughter of Sir John Ingilby, 1st Bt., of Ripley Hall, Yorkshire, by his wife Elizabeth Amcotts, daughter and sole heiress of Sir Wharton Amcotts, 1st Bt., of Kettlethorpe Hall, Lincolnshire.  On the death of Sir John Ingilby in 1854 he left the Kettlethorpe estate to his daughter, whereupon her husband assumed by Royal Licence the additional name and arms of Amcotts.  Sir Weston Cracroft-Amcotts, who died in 1975, left the Hackthorn estate to his daughter, Mrs Bridget Cracroft-Eley, who is presently Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, the personal representative of the Queen in the county.

The Hackthorn branch of the family has produced some interesting offshoots.  A branch settled in Leicester, and in 1698 John Cracroft was Mayor of Leicester.  There are many Cracrofts in the parish registers in the city churches of Leicester and the General Register Office indexes of births, marriages and deaths show that there were still Cracrofts in Leicester as late as the end of the nineteenth century.

Many of the junior sons of the Hackthorn line served in the Indian Army, the most senior probably being Major General Bernard Cracroft (1837-1909).  His branch of the family also produced an Air Vice Marshal in the person of Peter Dicken Cracroft CB AFC.

Another interesting member of this branch was George Cracroft, an engraver at the Royal Worcester pottery factory, 4th son of Lieut Edmund Cracroft, an officer in the Bombay Infantry, who was himself the youngest son of Robert Cracroft, of Hackthorn Hall, by his second wife, Rebecca Waldgrave.  George married Emily Seely in 1840, and had three children by her.  By 1852 George and Emily had separated, and George had started a liaison with his housekeeper, Mary Ann Stevenson, by whom he had six more children.  The children initially took the surname of Stevenson but soon changed it to Cracroft.  There are many Cracroft descendants of Mary Ann still living in the Worcester area.

The Cracrofts of Burgh-le-Marsh, Gainsborough and Kingston-upon-Hull

Going back to the third line, about 1560 Robert Cracroft of Burgh-le-Marsh, eldest son of William Cracroft, the younger son of Richard Cracroft of Ingoldmells, married Protasia Quadring.  She was the only child of Thomas Quadring of Irby, by his first wife Margaret Dymoke, daughter of Thomas Dymoke of North Carlton and Friskney.  In 1615 Anne Armine, Protasia's cousin and daughter and sole heiress of William Dymoke of Friskney, left all her estates to Robert's son, Thomas Cracroft.  These estates were quite extensive.  In 1639 the inquisition post mortem of Thomas's eldest son George showed him as holding not only the manor of Friskney, but also 146 acres of land in Burgh-le-Marsh, 200 acres in Bratoft and Gumby and a further 140 acres in Leake.  George recorded his pedigree and arms in the 1634 Heralds' Visitation of Lincolnshire, thus confirming the gentility of his line.  His eldest son Charles was Warden of Louth in 1675 and 1684.  He married twice, having two sons and two daughters by his first wife and the same again by his second wife.  His eldest son was another Charles, who was baptised at Burgh-le-Marsh on 10 September 1648 and entered at Alford School on 1 September 1662.  Although his younger half-brother, Thomas, was described as being the "son and heir apparent" of Charles in his uncle's will in 1698, I contend that this Charles Cracroft is the same person as the Charles Cracroft who married the pregnant Ellin Smith at Gainsborough on 20 April 1667 and founded the Gainsborough, Kingston-upon-Hull and Salt Lake City branches of the Cracroft family.  Apart from possibly through the younger Charles Cracroft, there are no recorded male descendants of the elder Charles Cracroft.

The Gainsborough branch has proved very prolific, sending sub-branches to Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, and to Salt Lake City, in Utah, USA.

The immediate descendants of Charles and Ellin Cracroft lived quiet modest lives, working as hemp growers and dressers.  In 1837 James Cracroft, Charles's great-great-great-grandson, and his third son, also called James, were drowned in a boating accident in the River Humber.  James's widow, Elizabeth, married George Manlove of Kingston-upon-Hull some two years after her husbands tragic death and moved to Hull with her young family of four sons and four daughters (the youngest only being three years old).  In due course in 1871 at the age of 48 her eldest son, Thomas Cracroft, became a Mormon and moved with his wife and family to Salt Lake City.  He settled there and was the ancestor of a particularly large branch of the family, one of whom is the highly respected Elder of the Mormon Church, Professor Richard Holton Cracroft.

Elizabeth's other sons Richard, Thomas and William, settled in Kingston-upon-Hull and their Cracroft descendants are found there today as well as in Gainsborough again.

Patrick Cracroft-Brennan
12 October 2008