William B. Svoboda




The name Humberston means ‘from the local of Humberston’, a parish in Lincoln four miles from Great Grimsby or ‘of Humberstone’ a parish in Leicester Co, 3 miles from Leicester. [Bardsley Dict. Of English and Welsh surnames 1901].   Geographically, the name Humberstone (more recently spelled Humberston) is from the Old English Humbre + stone for “the boundary stone in the River Humber”.  In the 1086 Domesday Book it is rendered in its original form as Humbrestone.



The Humber River begins at the junction of the River Ouse and the River Trent where it is about 1 mile wide.  It increases in width until, at its mouth (estuary) it is 8 miles wide, with a deep water channel paralleling Spurn Head, of about 22 miles length.  To the west, along Grimsby-Cleesthorpe and the Humberstone Conservation area, at low tide there are many sand banks and mud-flats.  Danish Viking inveasions in 870 A.D. scourged and plundered the whole of Lincolnshire.  It is easy to envision people native to the area fleeing inland and perhaps southward, which could account for the later appearance of the Humberstones in the Walkern area.



The town of Humberstone, a small residential community immediately south of the seaside resort of Cleethorpes, is home to the Humberstone Fitties” one of the few surviving land developments of the country, dating from World War One.  (‘Fitties’ is a Lincolnshire term meaning salt-marsh.)   This area has been developed into a cluster of 320 bungalows for summer campers from  Victorian and Edward times although during the World Wars, it was used for military purposes.  It has recently been developed as a conservation area on the grounds of its historical significance.

Within the parish of Humberstone, one famous name is that of Matthew Humberstone, Esq., who died in 1709.  He was a foundling from Homerton, near London, who became wealthy, purchased the estate at Humberstone, and altered his name to that of the village.  [Note:  He is not a true Humberstone by birth.] At his death he left 1000 pounds to rebuild the parish church and to build a Free Grammar School and Almshouse.  Disputes over the will delayed the building of the school and almshouse until the year 1821.


The genealogy of the Walkern Humberstons is found in the Harlean Society’s publications of the Visitations of Lincolnshire, Hertfordshire and London, done in the 16th and 17th centuries, greatly augmented by the material in the summaries of Humiston family wills, printed in Volume II of the Hertfordshire Genealogist and Antigquary, which printed all Humiston wills probated in England until the year 1800.


The  St. Mary’s Walkern Church

The small community of Walkern is 4 miles west of Stevenage.  To the north of Stevenage is Great and Little Wymondly, 2 equally small villages associated with the birth of some Humberston families, although Walkern continued to be the main site.  Stevenage grew to become the center of commuters who moved out of London to nearby villages during the Second World War bombing.



Country churches or their spires are often visible from great distances, but seldom lie near a main road.  Many is the time a visitor misses the church altogether and has to make a detour or climb a steep hill to find it.  At Walkern though, neither church nor tower is visible from the High Street, one is quite agreeable surprised to see it when on a cross-country walk,. St. Mary the Virgin nestles low on the north bank of the river Bean in a hollow and yet stands apart.  (St. Mary of the Virgin Church)



Walkern was occupied since Roman times and no doubt earlier, but the history begins in the reign of Edward the Confessor, with a manor, a small oblong Saxon Church, and a priest which stood on this site from about the middle of the 10th century. The church would have consisted of a nave and chancel only, with the alter in a rounded end called an ‘apse’:  the South Wall and chalk road or sculpture of Our Lord on the Cross remaining day.   The Church, the manor and fourteen farms are mentioned and a priest also, in the Domesday Book.  The first named priest was John, called William de Walkern, and the second, Henry de Lanvalei. (Walkern Church History)   An effigy in Purbeck Marble of a Knight Templar in chain mail with visor down and legs crossed in a niche in the south wall of the site is probably William de Lanvalei II, early thirtheenth century.(St. Mary of the Virgin at Walkern)



By the year 1428 we have records of a certain John Humberston, keeper at Walkern park (he is said to have earned 2 pence a day).  One of his family had the advowson of Walkern Church and the family was prominent in Walkern for 200 years. (Overman M.)    The Walkern Church is filled with Humberston family brasses and a monument as the family was important in local history as landowners for many generations. (Walkern Church History)  



John Humberstone (abt. 1428)
In 1427, John Hotoft was keeper at two pence a day and in 1428, John Humberston.  The Humberstones were an important local family for two hundred years and at one time lived at Holmes Farm. (Walkern Church History)

Unknown Members of the Humberstone Family – (1480)

In the north aisle lies a stone slab bearing in brass the figures of a man and his wife: the inscription is wanting, but a shield of arms Argent three bars Sable, in chief three pellets, identifies them as members of the Humberstone family, and the style of their costumes as about the year 1480.  Between the figures was formerly a scroll bearing the legend “Lerne to dee t lif eu”.  (Excursions)







John Humberstone Jr. (abt. 1587-8)

Names taken from the muster roles (HRO 6990) in 1587 (folio 64r) included ‘John Humberstone junior’ as a trained man furnished the towne calivers. 

Names taken from the muster roles (HRO 6990) in 1588 (folio 74v & 75r) included ‘John Huberston jnr.’  as one of the town calivers
Richard Humberstone (d. 1581)
Another memorial of the family, now on the north wall of the vestry but hidden by a cupboard is an inscription to Richard, son of John Humberstone, who lived in a house called Holmes in Walkern and died in 17th March 1581-2.   (An interesting feature of this brass is that it is a palimpsest; on the back is an inscription to John Lovekyn, a stock fishmonger , who died in 1370.  He was Lord Mayor of London in 1348, 1358, 1365 and 1366 who died in 1368.(Cussans, Broadwater, p. 79) He was a prominent man at Kingston, Surrey and a benefactor to that town.](Excursions)

William of Digswell had the patronage of the living in 1612 and there is a stone in the church inscribed,

Here lyeth buried under this stone the body of Richard Humberston, the son of John Humberston, who deceased the thirteenth day of March in the year of our Lord 1581.. (Walkern Church History) 




Edward Humberston (d. 1583)

Yet another Humberston memorial is the palimpsest brass now at the west end of the centre aisle, a memorial to Edward Humberston and his wife, dated 1583.   This shows the figures of Edward, son of John Humberstone, Gent. and brother of the aforesaid Richard, who died in 1583, and his wife Annas, or Agnes, daughter of Edward Welche.    (Shortly afterwards, she married, as his second wife, George Chauncy of Ardeley and New Place, Herts, great-grandfather of Sir Henry Chauncy, the Herts historian.)  Beneath them are represented five sons and three daughters; and above them is an achievement of arms of Humberstone with two other quarterings.  All these items are composed of eleven pieces of brass, all of which are palimpsets. (Excursions)  [It is of particular interest to brass rubbers and historians as it is a palimpsest – a re-used brass turned over.   It was in memory of Edward Chapman, Haberdasher, and his wife and twelve children (yes, a round dozen) and is dated somewhere in the 1620s or 30s.   (Overman M.)  The upper part of the man has a lady’s head of about the year 1400. His lower part becomes an inscription “gryse die ou’l”. The two groups of children are cut from an armorial shield, which bears Gryse impaling another coat.  On the back of the two pieces of the lady and the achievement, are pieces of a carved inscription in a decorative border with the date 1474.  The back of the four-piece inscription also has lettering and part of a group of four boys.  [Others used for memorials to William West, 1583, at Marsworth church, Beds, and Isabel Annesley at St. Margaret, Lee, Kent.] (Excursions)

 Here llyeth buried in bodnen of Edward Humberstone sonne of John Humbarstone gent. Who married Annas the daughter of Edward Welche and ---------- Ganies and in daughters and detailed the name of man nor of a  Lord God 1581




John Humberstone (d. 1590)

Yet another Humberstone inscription to John, eldest son of the aforesaid Richard Humberstone, late of Walkern Park, who died in 1590, is now on the north wall of the vestry.  Part of it is lost, but Chauncy, in his History of Herts, 1700, records the complete inscription.   John was keeper of the Walkern Park in 1428.   In 1473 a John Humberstone owned a tenement called Garnons in Much Munden (Ct. Rolls, portfolio 178, no. 288) and in 1526, a John Humberstone disposed of it to John Hamond (F. of F. Herts, Ester, 18 Henry VIII. (Excursions,  Walkern Church History)  The inscription states:

 ...body of John Humberstone y  sonino…..umberston late of Walkrorne parke. Wyurs he had mjie by them bothe the 13th daye of October in the …Lord, God. 1590.





Giles (Gyles) Humberston  (d. 1627)

 It was around this time, in 1626, that the first of St. Mary’s six bells was hung in the tower.  A second was added seven years later.  Also of this time there is another Humberston Memorial, dated 1627, to Gyles and Mrs. Humberston. (Overman M.)   Fixed on the nave side of the old south wall (Overman M)  is a memorial erected by Mary Humberstone to the memory of her husband Gyles, by whom she had seven sons and four daughters.  It represents husband and wife facing each other and kneeling at a desk.  The tribute reads:


The monument was erected by Mary Humberston, widow, in memory Of her deare and Lovinge husband Gyles Humberston Parish in the county of Hartford Gent by whom she had 7 Soones and daughters He departed this life Y 15th of Jan. VII 1627
                Tis not dearee si a stone can decke your herse
                Or can your worth lodge in a narrow verse
                No loving husband this engraven breathe
                Is not to speake your life, but were your death
                And if eredcted by the engenous trust
                Or sad wife in honour of your dust.




Gyles made his will on 29th August 1627 and died the following 15th January.  A pedigree of three generations commencing with this Giles will be found in the Visitation of London, 1633-1634.  His wife was Mary, daughter of Thomas Smartfoot, who owned property at Puckeridge, Herts; and their sons as named here and/or in his will were Thomas (and his son Edward), John (s.p. in 1633), Leonard (s.p. in 1633), Henry, Osmond or Osburne, Edward (s.p. in 1633) and William of London (with his son and heir Edward in 1633).  Two of his daughters were Theodosia and Mary.  (With further details, I will not trouble you, for the Humerstones of Walkern and elsewhere were a most prolific family and if any of you would like a pleasant winter’s work next winter, I would suggest that, taking as a basis their pedigrees from the Visitations of Herts, 1634 and of London, to which I have referred, you might, with the aid of the abstracts of their seventy-two wills dating from 1557 to 1737, which are printed in the Herts Genealogist and Antiquary, Vol II, try to work out their genealogical tree.) (Excursions)
The fifteenth century brass in the north aisle has the Humberston arms. (Walkern Church History)






The Gorsuch family vs. Thomas & Elizabeth Humberston

Another similar monument on the south chancel wall, facing the alter, is in memory of Daniel Gorsuch and his wife Alice.   This wealthy mercer of London had bought the living for his son John, and had also built the old Rectory for him. 
“…. William Humberston of Digswell sold it [the Rectory] on the 30th November, 1616 to Edward Beale, of London, Grocer, who sold it to Daniel Gorsuch, of London, merchant, who presented in 1632.   It was afterwards purchased by Andrew Gardiner, of Southwark….” (Cussans)
In 1621 Thomas Humberston married Elizabeth Harmer, born 1602, daughter of Thomas Harmer of Weston and his second wife Elizabeth Clarke.(Harmer)  John Gorsuch, D.D. had some trouble at Christmas 1636 over the question of communicating at the altar rails.  In the Harmer Family notes there is the story of the bitter dispute between the parishioners and their priest, John Gorush the Rector, (Overman M)  mainly because of his Royalist sympathies. (Harmer)  On the eve of Good Friday, Thomas Humberstone and wife went to Dr. Gorsuch and acquainted him with their purpose of receiving the Holy Communion on the next day.  They paid him their accustomed offerings on Good Friday, and drew all of them out of the church into the body of the chancel, and there kneeling desired to be partakers thereof, but were refused by the Doctor and his curate, unless they would come up to the rail.(Victoria Co. History)  On Easter Sunday 1637 he refused to administer the sacrament to Thomas Humbestone and his wife Elizabeth (Harmer) Humeston because they insisted on kneeling in their pew in the Chancel to partake of the Holy Communion in the chancel, instead of coming up to the alter rail as the rector insisted. (Harmer, Walkern Church History) 





They [The Humberstones} then applied to Holdsworth, archdeacon of Huntingdon, who saw Gorsuch on the subject and wrote a persuasive letter to them to reform their carriage.  Thereupon they addressed a petition to Williams as Bishop of Lincoln, begging his intervention.  The bishop, whose views on the position of the altear were widely known through his book, The Holy Table: Name and Thing, at once took the part of the parishioners, saying of Gorsuch that it was “a old part in him and more in his curate to deny the communion upon such weak foundations” and requiring him “to warn a communion and to administer the same to as many of those parties as shall present themselves, in any part of the church, kneeling, under pain of suspension in him and deposition in his curate.”  Gorsuch then appealed to Laud, alleging that he could obtain no order against Humberstone in the courts of the Bishop of Lincoln as that prelate would not suffer them to be presented and remitted all punishment in such cases; he prayed that the case might be referred to the court of High Commission.  Humberstone and his wife also petitioned the archbishop and stated their readiness “to receive either at the rails or in the chancel.”  Gorsuch had thus won his point and Laud, in October, issued directions to Sir John Lam, commissary to the Bishop of Lincoln, that any process against Humberstone should be quashed and that Gorsuch should “cease all further suit and do what shall gbe fitting in a peacaeable and Christian-like way.” (Victoria Co. History)


Thus the Archdeacon supported the Rector and his curate, but on appeal, the Bishop of Lincoln supported Humberston;  lastly Archbishop Laud supported Gorsuch.  Letters to the Archdeacon, the Bishop and finally to Archbishop Laud (who supported the priest) failed to settle the dispute. Eventually Gorsuch was ejected by Parliament in 1642.(Harmer)  It seems that the real issue was Royalist and Puritan, Laud being a supporter of Charles I and Gorsuch had paid for a volunteer to support the King.  Parliament triumphed and Laud was executed in 1642. (Walkern Church History)

Gorsuch was supplanted by the Reverend Nathaniel Ward and was sequestered – his living was confiscated. (Walkern Church History) Having been turned out of his benefice, Gorsuch lived on in the parish and continued to make himself a nuisance. (Harmer)  He was said to live as “a common haunter of ale houses and taverner, and often drunken and often staying gaming whole nights togtether and is seldom in the pulpit preaching scarce once a quarter.”  Another report, however, says he was of very good repute.  Ward had to give Mrs. Gorsuch twenty pounds a year, a fifth of his stipend. (Walkern Church History)


Upon Complaint made by Mr. Nath:  Ward to whom ye Recotrie of Walkern in ye County of Hartford is sequestered that Doctor Gorsuch from whom ye same is sequestered hath in contempt of the said Sequestracon taken awaie by force & detained from ye said Mr. Ward the corne of the glebae of good value to the great piudice of the said Mr. Ward, it is therefore ordered that the wife of the said DoctorGorsuch doe shew cause before this Committee on the 18th day of November next wherefore shee the said Mrs. Gorsuch should not bee debarred of the 20li a yeare granted her in lieu of the 5th pt for ye saide wronge & contempt, & in case the said Mr. Ward shall forebeare paynt of the said 20li a yeare unto her in the mean tyme, it is ordered that the said detainer shall not be accompted a contempt of the said order of this Committee. [Add. MS, 15671, fol. 253, Mus. Brit.](Cussans)



The following year, in 1643,  John White published his “First Century of Scandalous malignant Priests” which included John Gorsuch, Rector of Walkern “who hath published a wicked libel against the Parliament that some Lords whom he named were Fooles”.  It also states that Gorsuch had provided a horse and rider to serve under Prince Rupert against Parliament and had also “denyed many of his Parishoners the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper without any cause shown, and refused to administer it to such as would not come up to the alter.” (Harmer)


Simon Smeath, vicar of Weston, succeeded Ward, but was still troubled by Gorsuch; indeed he persuaded the Earls of Manchester, a Parliamentarian leader, in 1647,  to send Fairclough of Weston with a body of men to seize and eject him. (Harmer, Walkern Church History)  In order to escape, he hid in a haymow and was smothered. (Harmer)  


Dr. Gorsuch was smothered in a Haymow.  Fairclough of Weston acting Rascall under Manchester sent a body of Rebels to Seize and eject Gorsuch for Smeath Vicar of Weston. Gorsuch betook himself to ye Haymow & there lost his Life.  He left a very good name.


Revd. Thomas Tipping, Vicar of Ardeley
Note in copy of Chauncy’a History   1740


Thus ended the life of this turbulent but probably well-meaning priest. (Harmer)   The Rector lost his living and indeed his life at the time of the Commonwealth and his widow Anne and seven of his eleven children, the eldest not yet twenty, thereafter immigrated to America, settling in Virginia. (Walkern Church History)



Cussans’ The Rectors of Walkern
Excursions. 1934: lst Excursion Walkern and Its Church
Harmer Family of Weston History (p., 177)
Overman, M., The Story of St. Mary’s, Walkern Copy at Stevenage Museum 8/3/03
St. Mary of the Virgin at Walkern
Victoria County History
Walkern Church History St. Mary the Virgin Church of Walkern



All photographs by William B. Svoboda and Lois Svoboda
except The River Humber and the Walkern sign, which
are from the Internet.


Eden's Tree Genealogy