Croydon Minster historian, DAVID MORGAN, discovers that many of the borough’s road names have important links with the place’s history, some going all the way back to a knight of the Elizabethan age
Heron Road, CR0 6TW to give it its modern-day postcode, is one of the smallest roads in the borough with no houses which have an actual Heron Road address.
Of the four houses there, two have an Addiscombe Court Road address and the other two an address in Tunstall Road. Heron Road is a link for these two thoroughfares.
One resident, Tony, who moved to the area in 1963 describes Heron Road back then as an unmade potholed road. He remembers his father putting out the clinker from their coke boiler to try to level out the road surface.
It might be surprising, then, that such a small and rather humble road could be named after one of the most powerful men in the history of Croydon.
Sir Nicholas Heron died on September 1, 1568. He was buried with great ceremony at Croydon Parish Church on Thursday, September 8. His family were wealthy and owned a large estate at Edgecombe, now known as Addiscombe. In some old documents, it was written as Agecome House. This was where Sir Nicholas died.
Heron’s parents were Thomas and Elizabeth (née Bond) and he was one of at least seven children. Elizabeth came from a well-connected family. Her father, William Bond, was a Clerk of the Green Cloth. This meant that he was responsible for organising royal journeys as well as assisting in the administration of the Royal Household.
The eldest of their children was named William, with Nicholas the second born. William became Justice of the Peace. When he died in January 1563 with no children to inherit the money or the estate, it was Sir Nicholas who became the head of the family.
This was a period of church reform, rebellions and executions, with England in tumult, as the nation passed from the reign of Henry VIII through his son and daughters to Elizabeth.
In the midst of all this, Nicholas Heron was carving a career for himself in the military. “Captain Heron was a most active garrison leader,” he is described in one contemporary manuscrupt. He was the constable of Leighlin in Ireland from 1558 until his death and was also the Sheriff of Carlow. In 1562, he was made seneschal of Wexford. A seneschal is a medieval title, meaning a steward appointed by the monarch – by this time Elizabeth – to manage an area under English rule.
Heron was leased the castle at Enniscorthy, in County Wexford, although it is recorded that this Norman castle was in an almost ruined state back in 1536.
Heron was a key figure in carrying out Tudor policy in Ireland. Many English families lived in Wexford, to the south of Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains, and appointments such as Heron into local and military governance were made to ensure their presence and prosperity continued.
Heron was well-rewarded for his work.
He was knighted by Elizabeth in 1565.
For the first nine years of her reign, up to July 1567, for keeping Leighlin Castle she paid him £6,291 13s 6d – about £3,5million in today’s money. Sir Nicholas also got another £720 6s 0d from the Crown for keeping Carlow.
Elizabeth was never the quickest to settle debts incurred by her officials. The royal accounts reveal that Heron was charging three shillings a day for himself with two officers.
One fascinating other detail is that he charged eight pennies daily for 15 harque-busiers. These were cavalry men who used the harquebus, an early type of portable gun, supported on a tripod or forked rest. They would have created quite a fear factor among the locals.
We can find in Elizabeth’s records for September 1568 that Heron’s death is noted “died on Wednesday” adjacent to another entry of that day: “Suspicious death of the Prince of Spain”.
In his private life, Heron married Mary, the daughter of John Poole of Shrewsbury. They had 13 children, five boys and eight girls. His eldest son, named Poynings, born in 1547, also became a soldier. In 1588, in anticipation of an invasion by the Spanish Armada, Poynings Heron was made a captain and commanded 300 trained and 75 untrained men of Surrey.
Sir Nicholas Heron’s tomb was among those destroyed in the fire at Croydon Parish Church in 1867, though there remain artefacts which can be seen today, including the helmet from his suit of armour (currently on loan at the Museum of London).
Hanging over Heron’s tomb would have been some of his heraldic achievements, similar to the Black Prince’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral today. Two small brasses also remain and can be seen on the walls in the Minster today. One of them depicts the kneeling children of Nicholas and Mary, the other shows his elder brother William and his wife Alice.
At the back of the Minster, on the sill of the large stained glass window, various charred pieces of stone are displayed. They show the impact which the intense fire had on the church building. These stones were once part of Heron’s tomb. The Heron crests are clearly recognisable.
The tomb was positioned on the north wall of the Lady Chapel, or as one history book records it “The Heron Chapel”.
Other family members to be have been buried in the Heron vault were his mother Elizabeth (buried on August 15, 1558) and his father Thomas (October 2, 1544). Sir Nicholas’ wife, Lady Mary, was placed in the family tomb after her death in 1578.
The carving on the tomb showed Nicholas and his wife kneeling with their children behind them, in order of birth, with the girls behind their mother and the boys behind their father. A set of initials above the children’s heads indicated their names.
It was indeed a grand memorial. The naming of a short street after Sir Nicholas Heron might not be quite as grand, but it serves as a daily reminder to passers-by of the Elizabethan knight who once lived nearby, when Addiscombe was still Edgecombe.
- The London Street Guide, www.londonstreetguide.com, have asked communities throughout the capital to help them explain and expand on the origins of street names across the city, recognising that local knowledge will aid this project enormously
- To read previous David Morgan articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people connected with it, click here
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