The Manor of Mote in Iden

The Manor of Mote in Iden

 A talk at Rye Museum by Christopher Whittick on Thursday, 10th May

The featured image shows a reconstruction by Gerald Wood of the manor house at Mote as it might have appeared in 1500: ESRO, R/C 125/3/1.  With thanks to Christopher Whittick for permission to use this and the other photos. (You can click on a photo below to enlarge it.)

So much of the rich local history around us is visible – much admired by visitors too  — but much of it is not. Thankfully, archivists as well as archaeologists can use the clues that remain to tell us much about what once was, as the latest talk at Rye Museum – every seat occupied – proved abundantly.  Christopher Whittick, County Archivist at the East Sussex Record Office,  has been acquiring and cataloguing medieval deeds and manorial records for the ESRO for over 40 years and sharing what they tell us, now at The Keep in Falmer, opened by the Queen in 2013 and acknowledged to be the most up-to-date local record office in the UK.

At Lloyds Bank In Rye, in 1952, a collection of medieval documents was found relating to the manor of Mote in Iden, just three miles from Rye, and to the three important families who were lords of Mote: the Pashleys (1289-1458), the Scotts (1458-1646) and the Powells (1646-1765). The documents, in particular the 15th century account rolls, tell of the buildings which once stood within the moate, and the activities of the families responsible for them and the surrounding lands.  They reveal an astonishing amount of information now available in book form (see below), highlights of which our speaker  presented to us with splendid illustrations on screen.

We learned how much the accounts,  written so neatly in Latin with some English – on paper probably stocked from Calais —  tell us about the building works and their owners,  particularly Sir John Scott, and their key roles in royal service, in the development  of trade and as diplomats on both sides of the Channel.  

Grant to Sir Edmund Pashley of a licence to crenellate his house of The Mote in Sussex, 10 December 1318: ESRO. ACC 7001

There were insights into education, (and the unusual lack of it in one illiterate Pashley knight), rebellions and sieges, the need for defensive castles and towers against the French, the crucial importance of links with Calais and Flanders and of nearby Rye and Winchelsea as leading Cinque Ports, how early deaths leading to multiple marriages (and stepchildren) exacerbated rivalries (whether over inheritance or at Lancastrian vs Yorkist level, and sometimes leading to murder) every bit  complicated as today’s divorces sometimes do.

It was a fascinating immersion into provincial society at the end of the Middle Ages against a background of national affairs.  The 21st century audience was reminded that once it was much easier to travel from here by water than on ‘roads’ – where they existed. We also appreciated anew the skills and initiatives of forebears who strived and sometimes even thrived without the knowledge, experience, communication and technology we take for granted today.   We  increased our knowledge of word origins too, ”indenture’ being just one example: it was a deed or agreement executed in two or more copies with edges correspondingly indented as a means of identification; a mismatch betrayed a would-be deceiver.  

Detail from a map of the Rother Levels, 1633: Kent History and Library Centre, S/Ro P/1

The Manor of Moat or La Mote first appears in 1318, when Sir Edmund de Passeley, received licence to crenellate his dwelling place of La Mote.  He had caused a huge basin to be excavated with an island in its middle for a castle to protect the rear approach to Rye from French invaders.  There have been other buildings and even a harbour on the site over the centuries since but what remains today is the basin and two subsidiary moates, still impressive but sans buildings, and a small nature reserve whose frog chorus in June is reported to be quite loud. The site is now a scheduled monument considered of high archaeological potential.

Detail from a map of the Rother Levels, 1633: Kent History and Library Centre, S/Ro P/1







Extract from the Mote account roll for 1466-67, showing references to ‘the brickmen’ and the purchase of 7 pounds of iron on 16 May 1467, the English day corrected to Latin: ESRO, NOR 15/105

Outstanding among the owners of the demesne and household at Mote was Sir John Scott who not only survived  but thrived in the middle years of the 15th century. He was building a defensible tower in the late 1460s, conducted  trade negotiations in Flanders which probably influenced him, unusually, to use brick as a building material.

A time in Calais led him to appreciate the potential market for firewood and invest in its production and transport on a large scale, thus what we know as Scotts Float near Playden;  there followed a similar story with reed produced on the farm at Mote for roofing.  Sir John owned several estates, and the list of his posts includes serving as  Controller for Edward IV’s royal household.

It was in his time that parchment  was being replaced by paper and he is known to have imported it from Calais for the accounts.  English was interacting with Latin and he made frequent notes in the margins of the Mote rolls in both languages;  he’d had a legal education.  A third struggle of the times was between Catholicism — the Scotts –and Puritanism — the Powells,  who became the next owners of the manor of Mote.  While at Mote Nathaniel Powell  purchased the manor of Bodiam  ( built on much the same plan as the earlier Mote) and took an interest in manorial documents.  It is probably thanks to him and his steward Richard Kilburne that the documents survived.

Rye Museum is known for its fascinating speakers, a number of whom have also written books sought by members of the audience.  Such was the case this time.  The volume pictured  Mark Gardiner and Christopher Whittick, Accounts and Records of the Manor of Mote in Iden, 1442-1551, 1673.  (Sussex Record Society, 2011) can be purchased from the Museum> the price is £1500. 


Jean Floyd






First posted in Featured, Past Talks, Surrounding Towns and Villages on 14th May 2018
Last updated: 5th June 2018