Friday, August 24, 2018

Bifrons House: The Beginning

By Lauren Gilbert

I was reading an interesting article by Syrie James in which she discussed the Taylor family of Bifrons. This was a property with which I was unfamiliar, and the name struck me as unusual. When I researched it, I discovered just how unusual it was. The first meaning I came to was Bifrons, or Janus Bifrons, the two-faced god of the Romans, one of the earliest gods of the Roman pantheon. He was the gatekeeper who looked both ways and was the god of beginnings and endings, and of special significance to soldiers.

Sebastian Janus’ Cosmographia
The doors of Janus Bifrons’ shrines were never closed in times of war. Bifrons House, near the village of Patricksbourne (also shown as Patrixbourne) in Kent, is in an area not terribly far from where the Romans are thought to have landed in Richbourne, Kent c 43 AD (roughly 11 miles). It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the cult of Janus Bifrons existed in the general vicinity. Certainly, Janus was known in English early enough, as a view of Janus appears in an English edition (c 1550) of Sebastian Janus’ Cosmographia, as shown below. This was one of the most popular books of the 16th century.

(It is also worth considering that the name might be derived from two Latin terms: bi=double and frons=fronted.)

After the Romans withdrew and their influence waned, the Saxons moved in. This included the area in Kent in which Bifrons House is located. As it happens, a significant Saxon cemetery was discovered on a hill known as Patrixbourne Hill within Bifrons Park. The location of the cemetery is close to a Roman road to Dover, which road makes it clear that the Romans had been in the vicinity. The Domesday Survey shows that a church existed in this area in 1068, manorial lords (the Says, the Cheneys and the Patricks) were here from the 12th to the 15th centuries, and the church was served by a few canons from Beaulieu Priory. In 1254, an aid was granted to Henry III by William de Say and the canons of Patrikkesbourne (the roots of the modern name of the village).

The history of Bifrons House itself actually begins about 1607, when John Bargrave (also shown as Bargar), of a prosperous family which lived in the neighbouring parish of Bridge, began construction of the known house. (There may have been an earlier house, demolished to make way for this one.) The family, yeoman farmers and tanners, had long been established in Bridge parish, and had apparently recently become gentry. John was the oldest son of Robert Bargrave (or Bargar) and Jane Gilbert Bargrave, born September 13, 1571 in Bridge. There are indications that Robert Bargrave, who died in 1600, had been a soldier. John himself had been a soldier, serving about 10 years, attaining the rank of captain, and had fought the Spanish. John had multiple brothers and sisters including a younger brother Isaac Bargrave who was in the church, ultimately to become dean of Canterbury.

About 1597, John married Jane Crouch, the daughter and heiress of Giles Crouch of London, a wealthy haberdasher who supplied the funds for building. Indeed, it seems probable that Jane’s fortune was a serious boon to the family. John was also interested investing, being an early investor in the Virginia Colony, and may have established a private plantation in Virginia. It is known, however, that after Robert Bargrave died in 1600, John did not inherit the tannery in Bridge. The house, a Jacobean house of brick with stone details, was completed approximately 1611. A view painted between 1695 and 1705 by Jan Wyck is shown below:

John and Jane had multiple children, including their oldest son Robert, born c 1598 in Patrixbourne, Kent and their sixth son John born c 1610 in Nonington, Kent. During this period, life seems to have been more or less peaceful. John had a grant of arms in September 1611 from Camden Garter, which are visible in this small painting from 1650. However, there are indications that John’s investments were not successful as there are documents of a conflict between John and Sir Thomas Smythe indicating that John was not getting the return he should have and blamed Sir John Smythe, appealing for redress concerning cargoes that were not properly sold (or for which he was not paid), as shown by a petition filed with the Privy Council 1622. Somewhere after this date, it appears there was some kind of crisis, possibly loss of funds, as reminiscences of his son John (John the younger), who was in school at the King’s School in Canterbury around 1623-1624, indicated that he visited his aunt and uncle (John’s sister Angela married John Boys, who was dean of Canterbury Cathedral until his death in 1625) instead of returning to Bifrons which was nearby. The visit to his aunt and uncle could have been his preference, but it could also be argued that the house was closed or the family in straitened circumstances. John the younger studied at St. Peter’s College, Cambridge where he became a librarian then a fellow before becoming a clergyman himself.  Few records mention the family at Bifrons or their circumstances in this period.

It is important to note that this era was a time of unrest. Queen Elizabeth had died in 1603, leading to the succession of James I/VI and the joint rule of Scotland with England. James I was an extravagant king who was not particularly content to be restricted by Parliament. In 1625, James’ son Charles I inherited the throne and had a desire to formally unite England and Scotland as one kingdom, an idea not popular with Parliament. He also believed in the divine right of kings to rule unchecked. Also in 1625, Charles married Henrietta Maria, a Catholic French princess.

John Bargrave died sometime in 1625. It is not known when Jane died. Both were buried in Patrixbourne Church of St. Mary, where their remains were supposedly buried beneath the floor of the south chapel.

John’s oldest son Robert survived to adulthood. Robert was royalist as were his uncle Isaac and younger brother. It is easy to assume that, as the oldest son, Robert inherited Bifrons House and continued to reside there with his remaining family after his father’s death. However, at least in the sources I found, details about this Robert Bargrave are sketchy; not even the date of his death is known. It is interesting to note that he seemed to have inherited the estate at age 27 but did not marry until age 37. During the interim, he was apparently a soldier, and state papers of 1627 indicate Captain Robert Bargrave was involved with provisioning and transporting soldiers to fight the French. He married Elizabeth Peyton in 1635. They had children, the oldest being a son John who was the last Bargrave of Bifrons. Elizabeth’s father was Sir Samuel Peyton, MP, 1st Baronet of Knowlton and his wife Mary Aston. It seems probable that Elizabeth came with a significant dowry, as well as prominent connections. Data indicates that, by 1641, Robert was a Justice of the Peace. As tensions increased and the political situation worsened, Robert seems to have maintained his military connection as data indicates he served for the king and participated in the Kentish uprising in August 1648. I have found no mention of him after that, so it seems possible that he was killed or died shortly after this.

In the meantime, Robert's uncle Isaac (dean of Canterbury from 1625-1643) and younger brother John (fellow at St Peter’s College in Cambridge) had already paid for their royalist sentiments: Isaac was imprisoned in August of 1642; although he was released in a few months, he died shortly after that in January of 1643. John the younger was stripped of his fellowship in 1644, and subsequently fled abroad. He did not return until after the restoration. Among other appointments, he became a canon at Canterbury in 1662. He married a wealthy widow named Frances Osborne in 1665. He died in Canterbury May 11, 1680. In the meantime, his nephew John (Robert’s oldest son, hereafter called John the youngest) seems to have kept ownership of Bifrons House through the Civil War, Parliamentary rule and the Restoration, but could not hold it. In 1662, John the youngest sold the property to Sir Arthur Slingsby. In 1663, he raised memorial stones on the graves of his parents and grandparents in the Bifrons Chapel of the Church of St Mary in Patrixbourne, on which he indicated that his family had been destroyed by the Civil War. (This seems to be true of his most immediate family; the Bargrave family was far from extinct.) And yet, despite the Bargrave family’s Royalist sympathies and activities, the house seems to have stayed with the family throughout the period. I found no indication of destruction or confiscation so I can’t help but wonder how John the youngest's loyalty may have fallen. The house his grandfather built survived...

Stone of John and Jane Bargrave
St Mary, Patrixbourne, Kent - Ledger slab
by John Salmon, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The story of Bifrons to be continued...

Sources include: “Captain John Bargrave’s Charges Against the Former Government of Virginia.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 6 No. 3, January 1899, PP. 225-228. HERE;
THE FULL TEXT OF THE OXINDEN LETTERS 1607-1642, 1641, CXCIII (Draft) Henry Oxinden to Robert Bargrave [MS 28,000, F359] September 23, 1641. HERE; Full Text of Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series of the Reign of Charles I, 1627-1628. Edited by John Bruce, Esquire VPSA. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, 1848. Vol LXXIX 1627: Sept 1 #5, Sept 24 #22. HERE

Bifrons and Beyond. “Bifrons: Owners and Tenants,” posted August 28, 2016. HERE

British History Online. “Parishes: Patricksbourne.” Edward Hasted, 'Parishes: Patrixborne', in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 9 (Canterbury, 1800), pp. 277-286. British History Online HERE; Calendar of State Papers Colonial, East Indies, China and Persia, Vol. 6, 1625-1629. East Indies: September 1627, Sept. 24. Cowes, aboard the Loyalty. 508. Capt. Robert Bargrave to Edward Nicholas. HERE “The Bargrave Collection.”HERE “John Bargrave of Patricksbourne, 1st of Bifrons,” by Erica Howland, last updated June 19, 2015. HERE

History of Parliament online. “Peyton, Sir Samuel, 1st Bt. (c1591-1623), of Knowlton, Kent” by Peter LeFevre and Andrew Thrush. HERE Ashton, Robert. COUNTER-REVOLUTION: The Second Civil War and Its Origins, 1646-8. Yale University Press, 1994. P. 440 HERE; Hastead, Edward. THE HISTORY AND TOPOGRAPHICAL SURVEY OF THE COUNTY OF KENT VOL. 4. Canterbury: 1799. “The Family of Bargrave”, p. 217. HERE; Bann, Stephen. UNDER THE SIGN: John Bargrave as Collector, Traveller and Witness. PP. 46-48. HERE “A History of Bifrons Mansion House” by B. M. Thomas. Archaeologia Cantiana, Vol. 110, 1992. HERE; “Patricksbourne Church and Bifrons” by the Rev. W. A. Scott Robertson. Archaeologia Cantiana, Vol. 14, 1882. HERE; “RESEARCHES AND DISCOVERIES IN KENT – The Builder of Bifrons” by Philip H. Blake. Archaeologia Cantiana, Vol. 108, 1990, p. 270. HERE “Nonington and the Kentish Rebellion and the Second English Civil War of 1648.” (post undated.) HERE ; “Colonel Francis and Robert Hammon-Updated Biographies.” January 29, 2013. HERE THE VISITATION OF KENT, Taken in the Years 1619-1621 by John Philipot, Rouge Dragon, Marshal and Deputy to William Camden, Clarenceux. Edited by Robert Hovenden, FSA. London: 1898. [From The Publications of The Harleian Sociaty established AD MDCCCLXIX, Volume XLII for the Year MDCCCXCVIII] , P. 6. HERE

Images are public domain except where noted.

An avid reader, Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life. Lauren has a bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History. A long-time member of JASNA, she has presented various programs at the South Florida Region, and a breakout session at the the Annual General Meeting in Ft. Worth, TX. She lives in Florida with her husband. Her first book HEYERWOOD: A Novel is available. She is finishing a second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT. For more information, visit her website -

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